Condolence Gathering for Prof. Brij Vilash Lal - Remarks by NFP Leader Biman Prasad
December 30, 2021
CONDOLENCE GATHERING FOR PROF. BRIJ VILASH LAL
JAI NARAYAN COLLEGE, SUVA
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2021
BY PROF. BIMAN PRASAD
Dr Padma Narsey Lal, Yogi, Niraj and members of the bereaved Lal and Narsey families. This is indeed an occasion of profound sadness and grief.
In 1981, I arrived at the University of the South Pacific after successfully completing my New Zealand University Entrance Examination at Labasa College.
A lecturer by the name Brij Lal was teaching me history in my Foundation Studies course. I later found out that he too was from Labasa.
I asked him for advice. Should I pursue History as a subject in my degree studies? Brij advised me that I wasn’t suited to History. He instead counselled me to study Economics because
of my good marks in mathematics.
I am glad that I listened to the advice. Had I stuck to history, I could not have matched the achievements of that lecturer, who became a Professor in no time and went to be internationally acclaimed as Fiji’s and one of Oceania region’s finest scholar.
Professor Lal’s close association with the Leadership of the National Federation Party was based on his research and deep knowledge of Fiji’s history. He wrote two books on NFP’s founder Leader, A D Patel, and the biography of Jai Ram Reddy.
He served as the NFP’s and Opposition nominee on the Reeves Constitutional Review Commission. He worked closely with the then Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, and Mr Reddy, to give Fiji the widely acclaimed 1997 Constitution - thrown out after the 2006 coup.
Professor Lal believed and endorsed NFP’s long held principles of democracy, rule of law, justice and freedom and leadership with humility.
A scholar unmatched and unparalleled in history, especially that of the Girmitiya, and a champion of democracy, human rights, law, truth, righteousness, justice, good governance,
transparency and accountability.
And for this reason alone, Professor Lal was banished from the land of his birth 12 years ago in November 2009. He was given 24 hours to leave the Suva Point home that he had bought and
made ready for his retirement from 2010, and leave the country forever.
He was picked up from his home, taken to Queen Elizabeth Barracks and interrogated for a few hours. He was spat upon, punched on the mouth and his spectacles were broken. He was
then told to leave Fiji, otherwise his family would have to collect him in a body bag.
Of course, a few others were given this warning as well straight after the coup of December 2006. Was this a clean-up of corruption as claimed? Or was it a cleaning and ridding Fiji of the
critics of the coup?
Professor Lal was persuaded overnight by his closest friends into leaving behind his home with his wife Dr Padma Lal to fly out the following morning to Australia.
He was told to take the threat seriously. The Public Emergency Regulations or PER were in place. There was a media clampdown. Fiji had descended into lawlessness.
The lawlessness of Fiji at that time was best amplified by the ban placed on his wife Dr Padma Lal. She returned home in January 2010 after holidays with her now expelled husband and
But she was detained at Nadi Airport and told to pay her own way back. She refused. So she was detained at an Immigration Department facility overnight and then forcibly flown out on the next flight to Australia.
Why? Just because she happened to be Professor Lal’s wife. She had not made any public comment but she too was banished.
Professor Lal tried every logical means at his disposal to get the ban lifted after resumption of parliamentary democracy in October 2014.
He wrote to the then Immigration and Defence Minister. The Minister initially said he had no problems but to check with immigration.
Professor Lal wrote to the then deputy director of Immigration who replied that they didn’t see any reason for the ban to be in place but had to check with the Prime Minister’s Office.
PM Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama obviously said NO. And the then Immigration and Defence Minister had to change his tune as well and describe both Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal as threat to national security.
Sickening indeed! We also made attempts in Parliament through statements and interventions. Our Motion in February 2017 was thrown out as well. Why? We were told it did not conform to the rules of Parliament. The real reason was that Government didn’t want a debate.
I visited Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal in November 2017, together with my fellow MP Honourable Parmod Chand. Brij had Fiji written all over him.
I wrote to the PM pleading for him to lift the ban. I did not even get an acknowledgment of my letter.
Despite all this, Professor Lal did not give up hope on returning to his land of birth. He wished to retire where his heart was.
A man of international repute, revered by scholars around the world and especially scholars of Girmit and indenture in countries such as Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Guyana, worthy of acceptance by another country at the blink of an eye, but treated like a pariah by the government of his motherland, was still hopeful of setting foot on the soil of the land of birth.
This Government could prevent him from returning home, but they could not take Fiji away from him. Fiji was where his heart was, is, and will always be.
If this government has any conscience, it will without hesitation allow Dr Padma and Children Yogi and Niraj to bring Professor Lal’s ashes to Fiji for internment in Tabia, Vanua Levu, where he
was born in a thatched bure.
He grew up without piped water, without electricity, and by reading week-old copies of The Fiji Times . And yet he became the finest historian that Fiji and the Pacific region has produced.
A man who has contributed in no small measure to Fiji and shaped its development in the 20th Century.
A man who recognised and nurtured talent and never abandoned his students.
A man who gave careful career advice and embraced the success of his students.
A man who, till his end, never shirked the value of genuine friendship.
A man who stood for genuine democracy, truth, righteousness and justice.
And a man whose heart had FIJI emblazoned on it.
He called the NFP Headquarters on 24th December to speak to me and wish all of us a blessed Christmas. Little did we know that it would be our last conversation. Indeed, three weeks ago, he wrote a forward to a proposed book of a collection of my speeches over the years, which I intend to publish after the elections.
Those of us who remain after Brij’s passing have a duty to carry out the vision Brij had of Fiji. Of a well-governed, law-abiding country where we care for each other, where we listen to and respect the rights of others and where we play our part in making all of humanity better.
The professor judged me unsuited to teaching history. Perhaps he would have told some of us who have paid tribute to him today and have chosen the political life, that our duty is to make history by ensuring that Fiji once again becomes a shining beacon of hope and a land of opportunity.
He would have it no other way.
May God grant Professor Brij Vilash Lal eternal life.