While this meeting of world leaders was known for more than 12 months ago, Mr Modi’s visit to Fiji is being widely speculated since he appears to have expressed specific interest in visiting this small South Pacific nation. As I write this, information is at hand that both sides are making preparations and that an official confirmation would be forthcoming over the next week.
There are several reasons that justify the visit of Mr Modi to Suva, the foremost of which is that no major democracy other than India has stood by Fiji during the worst of its times, especially since December 5, 2006 when Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama staged a military coup and formed a military government. Fiji became an instant pariah, shunned by the countries of the West including Australia and New Zealand, with economic sanctions and travel bans in place.
Mr Bainimarama and his ministerial colleagues were not only welcomed by the Indian Government and people but were also facilitated with bilateral cooperation, financial aid and other benefits that a large economy can offer.
Mr Bainimarama, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum and Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola were among the senior ministers who have visited India in recent years. Mr Khaiyum was the first minister from a friendly country to visit New Delhi to congratulate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) following its impressive victory in the General Election, which concluded in India on May 16, 2014.
It is more than 28 years since an Indian Prime Minister visited Fiji. A proposed visit by P V Narasimha Rao in 1993 was cancelled while there was no attempt made by Dr Manmohan Singh during his ten-year tenure as Prime Minister. There were however several friendly gestures that his government made to declare that Fiji had the right to self-determination, that India would never interfere in the internal affairs of the country and that it was up to Fijians to respond to developments that affect their future. New Delhi has always made it clear that the interests of the people of Indian origin in Fiji should not be undermined.
On such a note of cordiality, there is reason to raise expectations on geo-political and economic issues emanating from the proposed visit of Mr Modi to Fiji.
Firstly, India’s penchant for democracy and the free will of the people to choose their government has been vindicated by Fiji at its general election held on September 17. This would set the trend for defense, sports and other training programmes for Fijians in India. It would also set the stage for increased cooperation in several other areas.
From a political standpoint, Mr Modi’s visit could provide yet another impetus to India’s ambition in the South Pacific. For several years now, especially since New Delhi has expanded its ‘Look Asia Policy’ into the Asia-Pacific and South Pacific rims, the federal government has been seeking full membership of such bodies as the Pacific Islands Forum (rather than an Observer status). A window of opportunity could exist for Mr Modi to discuss the issue with Mr Bainimarama and other Pacific Island leaders should an opportunity arise during his visit to Fiji.
Secondly, the Public-Private Partnership initiatives that are now being discussed in many parts of the world could have an edge in Indo-Fiji relations. Fiji has announced an ambitious programme of infrastructure development including roads, education and public health facilities, in each of which Indian expertise could be advantageous. Mr Modi has planned a number of reforms to boost his country’s infrastructure, most of which could be of benefit to Fiji. India can offer its versatile human resource in rebuilding Fiji and financial assistance in some form or the other could be on the cards.
Thirdly, there is speculation in some quarters in New Delhi that India is keen on a naval base in the South Pacific and Fiji could perhaps be an ideal location. Although India is a non-aggressive nation, its naval presence in the region could spell balance of power.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot was in India on a two-day official visit on September 4, 2014 during which he discussed the ways and means of boosting economic cooperation between the two countries. It is understood that Mr Abbot, apart from signing a Nuclear Agreement, pitched for closer education ties, which may lead to the increasing presence of Australian Universities and tertiary educational institutions in India and increasing number of international students to pursue their higher education in Australia.
According to the New York based International Business Times, Mr Abbot “heaped encomiums on India by calling it a country, which has amazed the world over the last few decades with its economic growth and development.
“It is the world’s second most populous country. On the basis of purchasing power, India is the world’s third largest economy. India is the emerging democratic superpower of the world with which Australia has warm ties.”