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A Vision for Change: AD Patel and the Politics of Fiji

A Vision for Change: AD Patel and the Politics of Fiji

Brij V Lal
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    A Vision for Change: AD Patel and the Politics of Fiji
    Book Description:

    “Dr Lal's book is more than an eloquent account of the political struggle of one of Fiji's outstanding leaders. It is a timely reminder that the process of constitutional change hangs in the balance, as it did at the time of Mr Patel's death. I hope his example will inspire future generations in Fiji to realise the vision articulated by a brilliant and courageous advocate of democracy, and a loyal son of Fiji.” Late Adi Kuini Bavadra

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-59-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to this Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Brij V. Lal

    He had been unwell for some time. Ever since suffering a mild heart attack in February 1968 while conducting a murder trial at Labasa on Vanua Levu, Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel had lived on borrowed time. But A.D., as he was known to the public, was not one to give in to intimations of his impending mortality. Much work was still left to be done, and he was determined to remain in harness to the last, much to the anguish of friends and colleagues who pleaded with him to slow down and delegate more responsibility to subordinates.

    They pleaded in vain....

  5. Chapter 1: Retrospect
    (pp. 1-16)

    A.D. Patel arrived in Fiji on 11 October 1928. By then, Fiji had been a colony of Great Britain for exactly 54 years, its social, economic and political structures determined by a series of decisions taken in the last quarter of the 19th century. Patel and others like him would spend the next 40 years battling the system, trying to dismantle the foundations of a closed, racially compartmentalised colonial order. The task was fraught, for with the assistance of powerful entrenched interests in Fiji’s plural society, the colonial government was often able to arrest or stifle any change that it...

  6. Chapter 2: Child of Gujarat
    (pp. 17-34)

    Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel was born on 13 March 1905 in a Patidar family in the Charotar tract of the Kheda district of Gujarat. He was born in his mother’s village of Mahij in the Petlad taluqa (subdivision), in keeping with the traditional Indian practice of women giving birth to their first child at their parents’ home. But young Ambalal grew up in his father’s neighbouring village of Pihij. That the child defines the man is, of course, a cliche, but like all clichés, it contains a grain of truth. Patel’s Gujarati background, the social, cultural and political traditions of the...

  7. Chapter 3: Into the Fray
    (pp. 35-56)

    European dominance in Fiji came under increasing challenge in the 1920s and the 1930s from the local Indian community demanding its appropriate place at the colonial table as well as from the Government of India. It was clear that Fiji could not, and would not be allowed to, continue to tread the path of gradualism of the previous half century of colonial rule. Indian leaders, A.D. Patel among them, were in the vanguard of the effort to give their people political representation and economic opportunity commensurate with their numbers and contribution to the economy. An equally important part of their...

  8. Chapter 4: Company and Kisan
    (pp. 57-80)

    On 12 January 1938, Padri Mehar Singh, Saiyyid Latif Shah and Pandit Ajodhya Prasad went to A.D. Patel’s office in Nadi.¹ They had just formed a farmers association, the Kisan Sangh, and wanted Patel to become one of its leaders. They failed to persuade Patel. According to Prasad, Patel refused to become involved. Confronting the CSR, Patel reportedly said, was like battering one’s head against the mountains of Sabeto. There was no organisation in Fiji which was strong enough to confront the Company, said Patel, and urged the three men to go home and forget about their foolish project. When...

  9. Chapter 5: Flesh on the Skeleton
    (pp. 81-104)

    The smoke from the fires in the cane fields had barely cleared the mountain ranges of Western Viti Levu when elections for the Legislative Council were held. A.D. Patel was elected to the Council from the North Western Indian constituency, winning 1841 votes to 554 for the incumbent and his opponent in the strike, B.D. Lakshman.¹ The main reason for Patel’s victory was his role in the 1943 sugar cane strike. The government and opponents of the strike had hoped that because of the hardships they had suffered, the Indian cane growers would reject Patel. The growers, however, thought otherwise....

  10. Chapter 6: Interregnum
    (pp. 105-128)

    By 1950, A.D. Patel had become one of the most influential and widely known figures in the Indian community and in the public affairs of the colony generally. His work in the Legislative Council was well known. His reputation as the Colony’s leading criminal lawyer was securely established, his only rival in the field being Philip Rice, whom Patel himself respected. In 1946, Patel travelled to India as the Fiji Indian delegate to the Indian National Congress at Meerut, where he met future Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and discussed the situation of the Fiji Indians with him and other...

  11. Chapter 7: Fire in the Cane Fields
    (pp. 129-156)

    The lull of the 1950s came to a sudden, turbulent halt in December 1959, when the Wholesale and Retail General Workers Union, led by Apisai Tora and James Anthony, struck for better wages from the Shell Oil and Vacuum Oil companies. The strike and the ensuing violence against European-owned businesses in Suva shook the city to its foundations, questioning many of the assumptions that underpinned the colonial order. Fijians and Indo-Fijians joining hands against expatriate companies was a rare, and frightening, sight for the colonial authorities to witness, especially when they had done their best to create institutions and structures...

  12. Chapter 8: Towards Freedom
    (pp. 157-182)

    ‘Independence will surely come to Fiji, if not today, tomorrow, or in two or four or ten years time, whether we wanted independence or not,’ said A.D. Patel in 1964. ‘But what kind of independence should we have?’¹ That was the main issue which occupied Patel for the remaining five years of his life. The inevitability of independence seems so obvious now, the pattern of decolonisation of the Pacific so clearly discernible, the dismantling of colonialism so inevitable, but it was not so in the early 1960s, when it provoked heated debate and acrimony in Fiji. Patel’s quest was seen...

  13. Chapter 9: Shaking the Foundations
    (pp. 183-212)

    ‘In ten years time, there will be a lot of changes in this country,’ A.D. Patel said to Andrew Deoki in 1960. Deoki looked at Patel and asked, ‘What do you mean? Do you mean that you will be the dictator of this Colony in ten years time?’ Deoki went onto recall the rest of the conversation: ‘And he looked at me and smiled, and he said ‘Yes.’ ‘In other words,’ Deoki informed his listeners, ‘he wants to be a dictator.’¹ C.P. Singh, another opponent and a nominated Indian member of the Legislative Council, called Patel an evil demigod, like...

  14. Chapter 10: Independence Now
    (pp. 213-240)

    ‘I, for one, believe that Fiji is ready for complete independence,’ said A.D. Patel in late 1965. ‘When we compare Fiji with countries like Samoa, Cook Islands, and other territories, no one can say that we are in any way backward to those countries. If they can shoulder responsibilities well, I do not see any reason why Fiji should not.’¹ That became the standard platform of the Federation Party, and its principal manifesto in the 1966 elections held under the 1965 constitution. Political independence was one of Patel’s main preoccupations. Another development which occupied him during this period was the...

  15. Chapter 11: The End in Harness
    (pp. 241-250)

    In his 1969 New Year’s radio address, Patel spoke of the promises, challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. Fiji was likely to ‘see most important political changes in the near future.’ The challenge for the leaders and the people was ‘to translate the fundamental human rights into a reality for all the people of this country regardless of race, religion, sex or origin,’ to ‘build a grand edifice fit for free men and women to live with dignity, peace and prosperity.’ Another major challenge was to negotiate a contract with the CSR, a contract which, unlike the Eve contract, ensured...

  16. References
    (pp. 251-254)
  17. Appendix: Telling the Life of A.D. Patel
    (pp. 255-272)
  18. Index
    (pp. 273-288)