The Indian government reacted to the coup in Fiji on Tuesday, saying it was saddened by the turn of events. Unlike Fiji's neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, both of which have slammed the military takeover of the government in Suva, New Delhi's tepid response to the crisis in the South Pacific islands was based on this being the first coup not directed against the Indian community in Fiji.
According to Shubha Singh, an expert on the island nation, "Issues that the army commander (in this fourth coup in the past two decades) has taken up are those with which India is sympathetic. This is the first coup not targeting the Indian community," said Singh, whose brother Ajay Singh is India's envoy to Fiji.
"The Army commander, Frank Bainimarama, has opposed two crucial bills the Prime Minister (Laisinia Qarase) sought to introduce;" Singh said. "The first bill was to provide amnesty to participants in the previous coup, while the other related to fishing rights in coastal areas being given to landowners," Singh said. "It was clear this coup was coming."
The spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, Navtej Sarna, said, "We are saddened to learn about the turn of events in Fiji and hope that the rule of law will prevail and power will be returned to the people at the earliest." In a brief statement, Sarna said, "India greatly values its relations with Republic of Fiji Islands, a country with which we share historical and cultural links."
India's links with Fiji Islands commenced in 1879 when Indian labourers were taken there under the indentured system to work on sugarcane plantations. The first ship load of 498 labourers reached Fiji on May 14, 1879. Their descendents form the second largest ethnic group in Fiji (over 40 per cent). Despite maintaining minimal contacts with India, ethnic Indians have retained their religion, culture, tradition and language. They speak Fiji Hindi (a mixture of Awadhi and Bhojpuri), while Hindustani is recognised as one of the three official languages (besides English and Fijian) under the 1997 Constitution.
After coups in 1987 and 2000, over 100,000 Fijians of Indian origin have emigrated from Fiji between 1987 and April 2004, mainly to Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada. Fiji has a small but growing Indian expatriate (around 400) population, mostly comprising professionals.