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ANALYSIS: Sugar Politics Spills Into Sangam

Sugar politics has spilled into the Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) Sangam splitting up its hierarchy and membership. The disruption of the TISI Sangam annual general meeting in Nadi last
06 Jun 2016 09:10
ANALYSIS: Sugar Politics Spills Into Sangam

Sugar politics has spilled into the Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) Sangam splitting up its hierarchy and membership.

The disruption of the TISI Sangam annual general meeting in Nadi last weekend signals the escalating battle to control the organisation.

Control will enable leaders to influence the ordinary Sangam members, many of whom are descendants of the Indentured Labourer system. The Girmitiyas have been an integral part of the development of the sugar industry and they are passionate about it.

It is understood that some Sangam officials are diehard supporters of the National Federation Party which dominated the Sangam for many through its sponsored Cane Growers Association, a representative of the growers in the cane belt.

They stayed with the party through some of its most difficult periods.

It was in the cane belt where the NFP was born as a political party and where it continues to seek support from.

For many years the NFP ruled the canefields and its vehicle for influence was and still is the Fiji Cane Growers Association. Then entered the National Farmers Union headed by Mahendra Chaudhry in the 1980s. The NFU started in Labasa and spread to Viti Levu where it captured huge chunks of support in the cane fields. The NFU became a significant support base when the Fiji Labour Party was formed prior to the 1987 general elections.

While the NFP and FLP formed a coalition and defeated the then ruling Alliance Government in 1987, the rivalry between the cane farmers unions resumed after the coups.

The NFU increasingly became dominant and this was reflected in the FLP winning the 1999 general election with Mr Chaudhry becoming the first Indo-Fijian prime minister. But Mr Chaudhry’s support in the cane belt took a dive when he joined the Bainimarama administration after the 2006 takeover as Minister for Finance. His subsequent conviction for violation of foreign exchange laws also saw him lose more support. As a result the FLP did not win a seat in the 2014 general election. Instead the NFP won three seats.

Mr Chaudhry has been working behind the scenes to rebuild the NFU and has even called for unity among the cane farmers against the Government’s proposed sugar industry reforms.

But the Fiji Cane Growers Association had accused him of being part of government that dismantled the Fiji Cane Growers Council (FCGC). The FCGC administered the affairs of the cane farmers. Members of the council were elected from the FCGA and the NFU. The council was the voice of the farmers to the Government.

The battle between the NFU and the FCGA is driven by the NFP and FLP.

In the Sangam, it’s now a three-way battle with FijiFirst entering the scene through Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment Parveen Kumar contesting the post of president.

If there was any doubt that sugar politics has split the TISI Sangam this statement by its president Sadasivan Naicker clears it

He says at the TISI Sangam Convention opening in Nadi that the second issue which directly affects the future of Sangam members and the organisation itself, is mainly the Reform of Sugar Cane industry Bill number 19 and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bill number 20. The first is a national holiday for the Girmitiyas.

“The reform Bill will take cane farmers back to the days of the Girmit. It is worse than the days of CSR. We must not forget that we originated from cane belts,” he said.

He said TISI Sangam itself was a cane contract holder.

“We cannot and must not be forces to become bondage with FSC and Government acting as our masters,” he said.

“It is my fervent hopes that prominent members of Sangam who are Cabinet ministers in the current Government will raise our concerns with Government as well participate in discussions on this matter during the AGM.

“We have to take a position on these Bills because it affects our future.”

His statement is identical to the submission of the FCGA.

 

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 

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