A giant amongst Fiji’s Leaders
30 August 2022
It is with deep sorrow that we have learned of the death in Auckland last night of Justice Jai Ram Reddy, who twice led the National Federation Party between 1977 and 1999 and served as Fiji’s longest-serving Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Reddy was 85 years old.
An accomplished lawyer and brilliant public speaker, Justice Reddy was the acknowledged leader of Fiji’s Indo-Fijian community during its most difficult and challenging period after Independence. His pursuit of reconciliation and tolerance with Sitiveni Rabuka in the post-1987 coup period led to the ground-breaking 1997 Constitution, cementing him into Fiji’s history as one of our most important national leaders.
Justice Reddy’s electoral partnership with Mr Rabuka in 1999 was unsuccessful, rejected by the voters. He then embarked on his next career as a judge, first as President of the Fiji Court of Appeal and later as a member of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, sitting in judgment on the horrors of the genocide that had taken place in that country.
Justice Reddy was a man of his times, but also one who understood and influenced history. From his earliest time in politics he understood the importance of deep understanding and co-operation between Fiji’s two main ethnic communities. He fought hard for his NFP constituents - farmers, workers and the Indo-Fijian community – but always with an eye on the future. Justice Reddy understood that the security of Indo-Fijians lay in a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Fiji’s indigenous people. He worked all his political career to pursue it, often in times of deep division and misunderstanding.
Justice Reddy was Attorney-General in Dr Timoci Bavadra’s short-lived government in 1987. Driven from office by the military, he fought passionately to protect those who suffered from the coup and its aftermath. He reluctantly returned to politics in the 1992 and 1994 elections, but always with a view to bridge-building and reconciliation.
His engagement with Prime Minister Mr Rabuka in that period laid the foundations for a deepening of democracy and co-operation between people of all races and faiths in our country. He was the first Indo-Fijian leader to address the Great Council of Chiefs, at Mr Rabuka’s invitation.
He travelled with Mr Rabuka to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 1997 where Mr Rabuka invited him to speak for Fiji in Mr Rabuka’s place. While many around him nursed their 1987 grievances, Justice Reddy understood that it was necessary to move forward, always remembering the past and the lessons it could teach us.
The 1999 political partnership between NFP and Mr Rabuka’s SVT did not resonate with voters. They lost that election. The reasons for this are now a part of our history, but this was a lost opportunity, an event that led to the 2000 George Speight coup and its consequences. Fiji still feels those consequences today. It was at that point that Mr Reddy, as he then was, decided that he had served his time in history and chose to return to the law, this time as a judge.
Justice Reddy is a towering figure in Fiji’s history. Like NFP’s founder leaders, Mr A D Patel and Mr S M Koya it is remarkable that he is remembered for his time in Opposition, not in Government. In that way he proved the importance of leadership and vision over the narrow objects of political contests. He had a vision for the next generation, not for the next election. He was deeply committed to democracy, the rule of law and the politics of dialogue and co-operation. Because of his leadership NFP moved with the times, to become a party with a national outlook, increasing its representation in the iTaukei community and its advocacy of issues important to all of Fiji’s people.
Justice Reddy’s life is a reminder of what politics and leadership in Fiji should be. We in the NFP are committed to the vision he stood for and to bring back the values he always fought for. We want his work and sacrifice for others to be meaningful and to bear fruit in a new generation of leadership.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.