The Failure of Democratic Politics in Fiji

By Stephanie Lawson | Go to book overview

4
Indians and the Franchise

THE EARLY STRUGGLE FOR REPRESENTATION

For the first few decades of settlement in Fiji, the Indian community was relatively inactive politically. The rigorous demands of the indenture system left Indians very little time, energy, or opportunity for anything other than concentration on survival, and allowed almost no scope for organization amongst the scattered Indian communities or for the emergence of leaders. Also, the franchise and political representation were not concepts familiar to the Indians for the first generation of Indian immigrants had had no experience of these in India itself.1 In addition, relations between European and Indians prior to the 1920s were, as Gillion suggests, largely understood to be 'those of sahib and coolie, master and servant',2 and little thought had been given to challenging these relations and the system which supported them in the early days of Indian immigration.

The first tentative move to secure some form of Indian representation on the Legislative Council came in 1910 when a petition to the government was drafted and presented by a former civil servant, and European, G. A. F. W. Beauclerc, asking for the right for Indians to elect two Europeans to represent them in the legislature.3 No mention was made at this point of electing Indian members, possibly because it was perceived that there were too few educated and articulate Indians who could offer themselves as candidates, and none had as yet emerged as a prominent leader.

The call for representation in the Legislative Council itself appears to have arisen as a reaction to efforts on the part of an influential sector of the European population to undermine the

____________________
1
The franchise to elect Indians to the Viceroy's Council was granted in 1909.
2
K. L. Gillion, The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European Domination 1920-1946 ( Canberra, 1977), 17.
3
CSO 4608/10. The petition was virtually ignored by the government.

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