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Rediff.com  » News » India-Fiji bilateral ties reach the next level

India-Fiji bilateral ties reach the next level

August 10, 2012 01:12 IST

When Fiji's President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, the first foreign head of state to call on President Pranab Mukherjee, visited Rashtrapati Bhawan, it provided an opportunity to review India-Fiji relations.

President Mukherjee spoke of the need to expand trade and investment while the Fiji president referred to Fiji's close cordial ties with India and the cooperation in the field of agriculture, healthcare and other sectors.

President Nailatikau expressed satisfaction at Fiji being able to learn about India's development experience through the training of Fiji nationals and scholarships to students.

India currently provides 40 training positions under the ITEC programme to Fiji and another 45 scholarships under different government schemes every year.

Aside from trade and governmental cooperation, India-Fiji connections are growing into other spheres as well -- at least three Indian film crews from Mumbai were shooting in Fiji's picturesque locales this summer.

President Nailatikau said that Fiji's Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama had returned from India earlier this year with glowing reports of his visit to India. Fiji looks forward to strengthening its relations with India in the future, he added.  

Prime Minister Bainimarama had visited New Delhi in late April to attend a meeting of the International Sugar Organisation. During a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi, the two leaders had talked about strengthening bilateral cooperation and Indian assistance to Fiji for upgrading the sugar mills of the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

Commodore Bainimarama had also referred to the situation in Fiji. He had assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his government was working towards preparing a new draft constitution for Fiji by the end of the year and planned to hold elections in 2014. The Fiji government has been headed by Commodore Bainimarama since the military coup in 2006.

The Fiji government set a timeline for holding elections in 2014, which was not accepted by Fiji's larger neighbours, Australia and New Zealand. However, in late 2010, about the time when the US declared the Asia-Pacific as a strategic 'pivot' for its foreign policy, there was a relook at the Fiji situation.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton accepted the schedule for elections in 2014 and increased US aid to Fiji. Australia has also resumed full diplomatic relations with Fiji recently and revoked most of the sanctions it had imposed after the military coup in 2006 indicating greater acceptance of the progress made in Fiji.

Earlier this year, the Fiji government appointed a constitution commission to draft a new constitution for Fiji. The government also lifted emergency regulations that had been in force since 2006; the emergency regulations prohibited public gatherings and any forms of protest. 

A five-member constitution commission was appointed and headed by Kenyan-born Prof Yash Ghai, an eminent constitutional scholar who was involved in constitutional reforms in several countries. Other members of the commission included Prof Christine Murray of South Africa, professor of constitutional law at the Cape Town University as well as one politician, an academic and a gender activist from Fiji. The commission has begun public consultations inviting political parties, non-governmental bodies, academics and other interested persons to make submissions and proposals to it.

According to Commodore Bainimarama the basic features of the new constitution should include equality for all citizens, a secular state, an independent judiciary, one-person-one-vote and elimination of ethnic voting, proportional representation and a minimum voting age of 18 years. 

Fiji has a history of armed coups followed by periods of elected governments. Fiji's population comprises of the majority indigenous Fijians community (56 per cent), a large minority of people of Indian origin (37 per cent) with people of European descent and other minorities forming the rest of the population.

The coups of 1987 and 2000 were followed by racial violence but the 2006 coup did not lead to racial tensions. Commodore Bainimarama had stated that his coup was aimed at removing a corrupt regime and cleansing the system.

Earlier this week, the Fiji courts sentenced former prime minister Laisenia Qarase for 12 months on charges of corruption pertaining to the early 1990s when he headed the government owned Fiji Holdings.

Qarase's lawyers have claimed that the charges were politically motivated. The conviction means that Qarase who was ousted in the 2006 coup will be barred from contesting the elections.

Another former prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry is facing charges of violating foreign exchange regulations by retaining overseas party donations in a bank in Australia. In these circumstances, the absence of two main political figures from the 2014 elections would not be a good augury for the elections.

Shubha Singh