Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Fiji is unique. In 1879, the first set of indentured Indian labourers arrived in Fiji, and thousands more travelled there for the next almost four decades.
Emigration from India slowed after Charles Freer Andrews, a close confidant of Mahatma Gandhi, reported on the poor conditions of the labourers in the colonies.
Still, at the time of Fiji’s independence in 1970, people of Indian-origin constituted 51 per cent of its population. In 1999, Mahendra Chaudhry won the general election and became the first Fijian Prime Minister of Indian origin. A year later, his government was overthrown in a civil coup.
The new regime repressed and discriminated against ethnic Indians who eventually emigrated Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.
The situation started to look up after Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed power. But by then, ethnic Indians were down to 37 per cent of the overall Fijian population.
Still, Fiji has one of the largest populations of ethnic Indians today. The Indian diaspora in Fiji will surely welcome Modi, much like the jawans in Siachen appreciated him for spending Diwali with them.
NK Das Gupta