Exclusive: Mahendra Chaudhry - Iron Man of Fiji

August 10, 2000

Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's deposed prime minister seems weaker physically but not scared. He is a free man today but his life still remains under threat.

After chasing around for couple of days, I finally got hold of Mr Mahendra Chaudhry and he told me where and when to meet. I had talked to him from Lautoka and decided to meet him next morning in Ba.

The next morning, I was there in time and was waiting for Mr. Chaudhry. I have been told that Mr. Chaudhry is not feeling well and the doctor is on his way. Also, I was to meet him as soon as his doctor completed the diagnosis.

As soon as the doctor left, I was called in room where Mr. Chaudhry was sitting on a chair. As soon as I entered, I introduced myself to him. He smiled and exchanged greetings, but I could feel he was in pain by his looks, his face was pale.

How do you feel after release? "Weak, I feel weak. I didn't eat for 7 weeks. I was on one meal a day." (Chaudhry seems physically very weak because, for 7 weeks, he had just one meal a day.)

Why were you having one meal a day? "It was a form of protest and silence protest. I just had very little to eat just to survive."

How did they behave with you during your captivity? "They (rebels) assaulted me physically, emotionally and verbally. They beat me up." (The rebels fractured Chaudhry's ribs during physical assaults.)

56 days in captivity! Are you scared? He slightly shakes his head and strongly replies, "I am not scared but yes my life is under threats. " His voice doesn't sounds like a weak man's voice. "We had multi-racial government out of 18 Cabinet Minister, 12 were Fijian origin. We were doing very well."

What caused the coup? Is it protest against Chaudhry or Indians? "No it's not protest against Chaudhry. We have public behind us. People do trust in my leadership. And as I mentioned you our government was multi-racial."

Neither you had the army behind you nor you had any strong community backing, then why you think you should be the PM? "That's right, we don't have strong community (Indian) but when we form the government we assume that armed forces will be loyal. There were some elements in Army those who weren't loyal and they participated in the coup."

If Indians weren't involved in the politics, will there be still a problem? "The problem will be as it is now. As you know there are internal divisions among the Fijian peoples themselves. There are 14 provinces; there are internal divisions that is why they are unable to form the proper government. Indians were used all this time as common enemy but once they (Fijian) are removed from political powers and rights, Indians will be always be finger pointed."

Why Indians are always targeted in Fiji? How come they seem a very weak community compared to Indians living in India? "Yes, we don't have martial tradition among Indo-Fijians. We don't have history of martial tradition."

"How come most of Indians says they don't want to fight, they rather leave the country? How come you are different?" "We have very weak Indian community, you will know if you trace their background. They are not the people who want to fight. They were here to work, as you know some part of India people can't fight. Places such as Bihar and you must be aware that most of Indians in Fiji are from that sort of places."

When asked to recall the moment death was very close? Chaudhry recalls, "There was a time they thought that army is attacking. It was clear to me that if they were attacked, they would use us as human shield especially me. Once they dragged me and pointed the gun on my head. I was still calm but the man who was holding the gun was shaking badly."

How about Chaudhry? Where Chaudhry's roots come from and what makes him Iron man? He laughs. Chaudhry has his roots from Haryana state, which is known for their brave people. While Chaudhry was held by rebels there were hundreds of young men in Haryana, they were ready to die for Chaudhry.

Do they know Chaudhry? "No, they don't but they were proud of Chaudhry and they know Chaudhry is from same community. A Jat ( A caste of Indian people known well that they can fight) of Haryana. A Jat of Haryana who doesn't know how to step back. They never step back or down - this is what their history."

Will there be a day when world will hear that Chaudhry packed up and gone? "No, I don't think so but by and large, I think Indians are loosing their confidence in this country now because it (coup) happened the second time."

Generally Indians complain that they don't have guns. They say that give us guns and we'll fight. What do you say? "It was thought that the best way to do this is by non-violence. Violence does breed violence. There are two ways to fight the battle. You know in India Gandhiji choose the non-violence way."

Does the world understand Gandhi's language today? "Well, we can look at this but look at many other countries trying to fight the battle by violence. It's all over. So, there are ways of dealing with the situation. We have a choice, what leaders decide and what is available to them. What options are best. We are an island country and things are different for us."

What's you future plans? "First I have to take care of my health. Later I will be visiting some countries to talk to their leaders."

"How do you feel about the International community?" "I am not critical of any country. They all are following international patterns of international sanctions."

What will Chaudhry say to people those who trust in his leadership? "I never bow before injustice and I will not. " Now one won't be wrong to describe Chaudhry as "Iron Man of Fiji"

- Interviewed by Rohit Kumar 'Happy" for NRIOL.COM Rohit Kumar 'Happy', is the editor of Bharat-Darshan - a Hindi literary magazine on the net. He is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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