A Leader Carries The Faith Of The People

Fiji’s leading writer Satendra Nandan’s The Seven Seas and book of essays, “Dispatches from Distant Shores” was released last month. ‘Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be
23 Apr 2017 15:37
A Leader Carries The Faith Of The People
A Fiji Airways Airbus A330 at the Nadi International Airport

Fiji’s leading writer Satendra Nandan’s The Seven Seas and book of essays, “Dispatches from Distant Shores” was released last month.

‘Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of usual political manoeuvres and trickeries but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. In our time of utter moral decadence he was the only statesman to stand for a higher human relationship in the political sphere.’

–              Professor Albert Einstein.



On my recent visit to Fiji, I was impressed by the development taking place on the face of Fiji: things were growing, buildings were being built, and there was a quiet goodwill in the people, at least the ones I met.

On the way from Sydney, I had a brief chat with a Fijian leader at 40,000 ft; on my flight from Suva to Nadi, I met another leader at 30,000 ft.

One journey was 4 hours; the other barely 30 minutes.

At that height one might think one is in a rarefied atmosphere: and that the ground realities are  substantially different.

But on a small scale, the plane is symbolic of our planet earth and, in a sense, our country in the 21st century.

Whether you’re seated in the Business class or economy, despite the difference  in service and style, you’re also sharply aware that you’re travelling together and the aircraft’s safety  and security are the existential conditions of all the travellers on that journey, including those who serve us and those who pilot us, those who help us to embark and disembark.

People we trust with our life and baggage that we’ll reach our destination safely, if not always on time.

Meeting two leaders on the plane – one from the Opposition, one from the Government – made me think about the qualities of leadership, in things big and small.

The two people I met were known to me and both are decent human beings and I would like to believe that they share a common vision for their people and their country for peace and stability, prosperity and progress.

And yet I’d travelled in two different planes on two different journeys.

Notwithstanding the differences, I was travelling to and within Fiji.

The first thing that struck me is the sheer physical beauty of the island of Viti Levu as my plane landed at Nadi airport.

It’s overwhelming picturesque setting never fails to touch my mind or memories.

Next to it are the two villages I grew up in until the age of 18.

The airport was more spacious and efficient for tired but expectant travellers. From Canberra to Nadi, it takes almost 12 hours.


Fijian Diaspora   

Fiji is a small country of islands in the largest ocean of the world; it’s current population hasn’t quite reached  1,000,000.

And the Fijian diaspora  has spread it wings in many parts of our postcolonial world.

To me, it is the most fascinating multicultural island nation in our region.

You can see that even as your aircraft lands in the slanting rays of a setting sun: a church steeple, a minaret of a mosque, the fluttering flag of a temple, the faces and smiles of many- coloured accents, flash by; you don’t see so much at Sydney airport.

The luminescent landscape is beautifully green and verdant.

The Sabeto hills have their ragged beauty and the palms sway like siblings above rain-trees and sugarcane farms.

The  bucolic green scene is dotted with homes and homesteads: Nadi town’s lights twinkle through it all and the airport is well-lit.

You might say what has it got to do with leadership? A lot, I feel.

Feelings for a place is part of the country’s leadership.

A country is made of dreams as well as beams.

I wonder how many travellers now feel like going to the USA or the Philippines, to mention only two countries where leadership seems to have given such negative image of the national identity.

Mr Donald Trump’s triumph raises questions of leadership.

He’s more important than most because America is our free world’s most crucial power. And that is the worry. His attitude to climate crises smacks of profound ignorance.

Fiji, needless to say, will be playing its critical role in the world of catastrophically  changing climatic conditions later this year.

It’s a great honour of international significance to a small country of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps our greatest challenge and responsibility.

The question is: Does one need a major crisis to bring out the best in leadership.

Would Winston Churchill be the finest Englishman but for his defiance of the evil of Adolf Hitler?

Would Abraham Lincoln be the greatest American President but for the Civil War?

Or John Kennedy, if we didn’t have the  Cuban missile crisis? Or Gandhi  become a mahatma if he hadn’t fought against the British Raj? Or Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid?

So does one need a crisis to produce leaders?

In our much smaller world would a Commodore’s rise from the sea to fight the evil of racism spawned on the land by much lesser men?

As I write this, I’m amazed at the petty and mediocre leadership being displayed in my adopted country.

It’s been an exaltation of the mostly average men and women: their petty battles in the Parliament not only diminishes democracy, it devalues our faith in the freedoms that democracy guarantees for its most common citizens.

The island continent is ravaged by terrible floods and fires.

We seem to be winning against desperate refugees and  helpless asylum- seekers. That’s the boast by some of our ministers of the Crown.

We don’t need man-made or natural crisis to bring out good leadership.

One great quality in a leader is the capacity to share the sufferings of others. It was worth remembering this at Easter.

Few modern leaders have that, being surrounded by bureaucracy, now essential to a democracy, and lobbyists with social media.

Hence the days of charismatic leaders are almost over: these are times for a variety of  shallow celebrities: Donald Trump is a case in point.

How he triumphed over a much-vaunted free press will remain an enigma.

Our faith in freedom of the press may be restored if the so-called American free media can once again expose him as The Washington Post did with tricky Dick.

That requires some courage, the highest human virtue.

And leadership we know works at so many levels: personal, family, school, universities, civil bodies, business, etc, etc, but the most difficult and critical is political leadership.

Everyone is affected by the words and acts of a Prime Minister or a President: it is he or she who carries the ultimate faith of a variety of people, young and old, needy and vulnerable.

And he or she ’s is always under public scrutiny from around a grog bowl to the chambers of Parliament.

The qualities I like in a leader are: that they must love life and children; their presence must empower and inspire and sometimes make us laugh with them.

And in respecting him or her one’s self-respect is always enhanced and never lessened.

Freedom from fear no one can give but a leader can make it part of us as we’re part of a particular landscape and the inclusive vision of that leader.

And when any leader looks in the mirror in the morning, he or she can see the flaws in the glass and the flows of a life well-led and wisely lived.

With a bit of luck, well-loved.


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