Ayodhya Prasad Sharma
अयोध्या प्रसाद शर्मा
|Member of Legislative Council|
|Preceded by||Tulsi Ram Sharma|
|Succeeded by||B. D. Lakshman|
|Constituency||Northern and Western (Indian)|
|Born||30 April 1909|
Butana, Rohtak, Punjab, British India
|Died||28 February 1972|
|Political party||National Congress of Fiji|
|Profession||Farmer, trade unionist|
Ayodhya Prasad Sharma (Hindi: अयोध्या प्रसाद शर्मा, 30 April 1909 – 28 February 1972) was an Indo-Fijian farmers' leader and politician. He formed the most successful farmers' union in Fiji and forced the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to make concessions to farmers after 60 years of total control over Fiji's economy. However, other Indo-Fijian leaders formed rival unions and his initial success was not repeated. He also served as a member of the Legislative Council between 1953 and 1959.
Ayodhya Prasad was born in Butana village in the district of Rohtak in the state of Punjab in India on 30 April 1909. While studying in India, he learned about the freedom enjoyed by people in foreign countries and decided to go to one of these countries. He persuaded his father to let him travel overseas for three years and arrived in Fiji in January 1929. Since there was a shortage of teachers in Fiji he obtained a third grade teacher's certificate and started teaching in Gurkul Primary School in Saweni, Lautoka. Due to public demand he soon left for Tunaliya, Nadi where he helped to build a school. There was no syllabus for teaching Hindi and when the school inspector found him teaching Hindi using a book which aroused nationalistic spirit amongst the Fiji Indians, Ayodhya Prasad was asked to stop using the book. He refused and his registration as a teacher was cancelled. In 1931 he returned to India. On his way to India, Ayodhya Prasad met an American, with whom he had a discussion about the political situation in India. At the end of the discussion he realised that Indians were under the control of foreigners, not because the English were bad but because the Indians were not united.
Ayodhya Prasad returned to Fiji in April 1932 to prepare to go to America to study. To earn money for his trip, he acquired some land in Yalalevu, Ba and started cane farming. He worked very hard on this farm but was told by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) that most of his cane had turned into molasses and his cane had very low sugar content. The money he received for the cane was not even sufficient to cover his costs. He did not receive any statement from the company detailing the amount received for the cane and the amount deducted for costs like fertiliser. His dream of going to America was in tatters. In the 1937 Legislative Council elections he supported Chattur Singh, who defeated his more educated opponent, A. D. Patel by a narrow margin but this result was to have profound implications for the relationship between A.D. Patel and Ayodhya Prasad in later years. After the election, people who had seen the determination with which he had campaigned in the election, persuaded him to give up his dream of going to America and to organise the farmers of Fiji.
Well aware that there was great fear amongst the Fiji Indian cane farmers of the Company, he started organising the farmers union in secret concentrating among the young members of the community because they were more passionate and were unlikely to be owners or lessees of property. In September 1937, he held the first secret meeting in Drasa, Lautoka following the celebrations marking the birth of Lord Krishna. On 27 November 1937, at a meeting in Wailailai, Ba, the Kisan Sangh (Farmers' Union) was formed. The first task for the new Union was to find someone to take up leadership of the new union. A number of people which included A.D. Patel, S. B. Patel and Swami Rudhrananda, Chattur Singh and Vishnu Deo were approached, but all declined the invitation. Undeterred, Ayodhya Prasad decided that the best solution was to learn from Mahatma Gandhi and live amongst the farmers while he preached the virtues of the Union to them. He decided to set up tents on Company land in different settlements so that he and his helpers could preach from it. On 18 May 1938, with the help of his young volunteers, he set up tent on Company land starting in Nadroga which is at the Southern end of the North Western cane growing area of Viti Levu and moved along the coast to the Northern end of Viti Levu. Initially none of the local farmers approached the tent but as the farmers saw the sacrifice being made by Ayodhya Prasad and his young volunteers and the inability of the Company overseers to stop him, they gradually started to join up. Following the success of this grass-roots campaign, Ayodhya Prasad spent the next four months organising the Kisan Sangh. First village committees were formed. These committees then met and formed district committees which selected members for the Central Committee based on the membership of the district committee.
On 9 February a letter was sent to the Company seeking negotiations for a cane contract but the Company ignored the Kisan Sangh. The CSR controlled the farmers through the sardars, and so Ayodhya Prasad put up candidates in the election for sardars and won most of these positions. Most sardars then took advice from the Kisan Sangh on receiving any Company directive. On seeing the strength of the Kisan Sangh, the Company started issuing statements with cane payments and circulated a contract for the next season's crop, both of which were original Kisan Sangh demands. Ayodhya Prasad and the Kisan Sangh advised the farmers not to plant crops for the following year until a suitable contract was agreed to. Under pressure from the Government, agreement was reached for a 10-year contract which included several concessions by the Company and an increase in the price of cane.
By 1940 the Kisan Sangh had become the most powerful organisation in Fiji and in July 1940 had a membership of 4245 from a total of 5918 cane-farmers in the North Western districts of Viti Levu. In the Legislative Council election in 1940, B.D. Lakshman stood for the North Western Constituency with Kisan Sangh and Ayodhya Prasad's support and won easily. On 15 June 1941, A.D. Patel formed the Maha Sangh, in opposition to Ayodhya Prasad's Kisan Sangh. Ayodhya Prasad and his supporters tried to stop the formation of the new union but were not successful. In 1943, Ayodhya Prasad was devastated when some executive members of the Kisan Sangh supported the Maha Sangh in a strike for a new contract, despite the fact that the contract signed by farmers in 1940 was for a period of ten years. Ignoring pleas from Ayodhya Prasad, farmers did not start harvesting on time and lost thousands of dollars. In the meantime, efforts by the Government to restrict the movement of A.D. Patel only increased his support. By 1944, the Kisan Sangh was badly split and A.D. Patel, easily won the election for the North Western Constituency seat in the Legislative Council.
It took Ayodhya Prasad until 1950 to rebuild the Kisan Sangh so that it was again the largest farmers' organisation in Fiji with support extending to the northern cane farming areas in Vanua Levu and a new farmers' union allied to the Kisan Sangh active in the Rewa area. He also managed to force the CSR to agree a new 10-year contract in 1950 which gave further increases to the price of sugar cane. In the 1950 election, a candidate supported by Ayodhya Prasad easily defeated A.D. Patel in the North Western Indian Divisionin the Legislative Council. Despite being involved un politics since 1937, Ayodhya Prasad, himself stood for the Legislative Council election for the first time in 1953 when he defeated his old foe, A.D. Patel by 2718 votes to 1919 votes for North Western Constituency. In the 1956 Legislative Council elections, he faced opposition from three high profile ex-Legislative Council members: K.S. Reddy, B.D. Lakshman and Chattur Singh, but won easily. In 1959, he lost his seat to his one-time ally, B.D. Lakshman, who had gained prominence as leader of sugar mill workers.
In 1959, Ayodhya Prasad's Kisan Sangh joined a united cane growers' organisation, known as the Federation of Cane Growers, to negotiate the next ten-year contract. Differences again rose between Ayodhya Prasad's and A.D. Patel's supporters resulting in Ayodhya Prasad's supporters signing the new cane contract, while Patel's supporters went on strike. Ayodhya Prasad and the Kisan Sangh were blamed for the failure of the farmers to get a good deal and in the 1963 Legislative Council elections, Patel and his supporters won all the Indian Communal seats in the cane growing areas. In 1965, on the eve of the London Constitutional Conference, Ayodhya Prasad formed the National Congress of Fiji and made representation to the United Nations on behalf of Fiji Indians. In late 1965, he worked with Ratu Mara to form the Alliance Party. As Ayodhya Prasd was flexible about the system of voting, Ratu Kamisese Mara found that he could guarantee more secure land tenure to Indian farmers in return for working with the Congress to form the Alliance Party. In the 1966 Legislative Council election, he again stood against Patel, and lost by a large margin. He was disappointed with Vijay R. Singh for encouraging direct membership for Indians into the Alliance Party instead of through the National Congress of Fiji. He believed that if the Congress had remained a constituent part of the Alliance Party then Fiji Indians would have had an equal say in it. With failing health he could do little and the Fiji National Congress was wound up. Ayodhya Prasad died on 28 February 1972.
Siddiq Moidin Koya (1924–1993) was a Fijian Indian politician, Statesman and Opposition leader. He succeeded to the leadership of the mostly Indo-Fijian National Federation Party (NFP) on the death of the party's founder, A. D. Patel, in October 1969, remaining in this post until 1977. He later served a second term as leader of the NFP, from 1984 to 1987.
Sir Vijay Raghubar Singh, KBE was an Indo-Fijian lawyer and politician who held Cabinet office in the 1960s and 1970s. Vijay Singh served in Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's government in a variety of positions, including Attorney-General, and was President of the Indian Alliance, a division of the ruling Alliance Party. He quit the party in 1979 following disagreement with Alliance leadership and later joined the opposition National Federation Party. Vijay Singh was involved in the restructure of the Fiji sugar industry and was a leading member of the Jaycees movement in Fiji.
Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel, better known as A.D. Patel, was an Indo-Fijian politician, farmers' leader and founder and leader of the National Federation Party. Patel was uncompromisingly committed to a vision of an independent Fiji, with full racial integration. He was one of the first to advocate a republic, an ideal not realized in his lifetime. He also advocated a common voters' roll and opposed the communal franchise that characterized Fijian politics.
Chandersen Chattur Singh was an Indo-Fijian politician. He caused a major sensation in the 1937 elections when he defeated A. D. Patel, a well known lawyer and political ally of Vishnu Deo.
Kisan Sangh was the first farmers' union formed in Fiji on 27 November 1937. This was the result of one man's determination to improve the plight of Fiji's Indian cane farmers. Ayodhya Prasad had arrived from India in 1929, and after a stint as a teacher took up cane farming and thus obtained firsthand experience of the problems faced by Fiji Indian cane farmers.
Brahma Dass Lakshman was an Indo-Fijian politician, trade unionist and businessman, who had a considerable influence on Fiji’s sugar industry. He served in the Legislative Council in two spells between 1940 and 1963.
Akhil Fiji Krishak Maha Sangh was a sugar cane farmers' union formed on 15 June 1941 in opposition to the existing union, the Kisan Sangh. Supporters of Kisan Sangh tried to stop the formation of the Maha Sangh but were unsuccessful. The people responsible for the formation of a second sugar cane farmers' union were A. D. Patel and Swami Rudrananda. The union was supported by the South Indian sugar cane farmers in Fiji.
Tulsi Ram Sharma was the first Indo-Fijian to qualify as a lawyer. He served one term as member of the Legislative Council and three terms as the President of Fiji Indian Football Association. He was one of the founding members of the Maha Sangh, but his association with farmers' union was short-lived. In 1941 he was appointed to Central Indian War Committee, formed by the Government to enlist the support of Indians to the war effort.
The Federation of Cane Growers was formed as an umbrella organisation to negotiate the new cane contract due to take effect from 1960 with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
The National Farmers Union' (NFU) is one of Fiji's largest trade unions. It was launched in Labasa in July 1978 under the auspices of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, with Mahendra Chaudhry as its first General Secretary. The union was initially based in Vanua Levu but gradually extended its operations to Viti Levu.
Vishal Sangh was a cane farmers' union established in Fiji on 1 September 1946, by mainly Sikh farmers, who refused to re-join the Kisan Sangh after its reunification following its split into two factions in 1943. It was led by Mehar Singh, one of the founding members of the Kisan Sangh and its former vice-president.
The Kisan Sangh had been active in the Western Division of Fiji since 1937 but had not seen the need to expand its activities to other sugar cane growing districts because of transportation problems and the fact that the other districts combined had far fewer cane farmers than the Western Division. By 1950, the Maha Sangh, a rival to the Kisan Sangh, was well established in Labasa in the Northern Division. As negotiations began for the 1950 cane contract, the Kisan Sangh decided to spread its activities to the Northern Division and the Labasa Kisan Sangh was formed with support from Viti Levu.
The Southern Division Kisan Sangh was formed in Fiji in 1946 by a former member of parliament, K. B. Singh, due to personal differences with the president of the Rewa Planters Union, Ram Krishna Chaudhary. There was widespread opposition to this until Vishnu Deo took over its leadership and worked together with Ram Krishna Chaudhary and his union.
James Madhavan was an Indo-Fijian politician. He was a member of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives for most of the period between 1947 and 1973 and had two spells in the Executive Council.
Krishna S. Reddy was a Fiji Indian school teacher, leader of a farmers' union and both a nominated and elected member of the Legislative Council. Although he started his political career as an ally of A. D. Patel, disputes over the leadership style of A. D. Patel led to a split within the farmers' union that they both led and later they became members of opposing political parties. After independence, he was elected to the House of Representatives as an Alliance member and also served as an assistant minister.
The Citizens Federation was the political expression of a predominantly Indo-Fijian trade union movement, and was a forerunner of the present day National Federation Party.
The number of Fiji Indians that could be elected to the Legislative Council was fixed over the years as follows:
Unlike the majority of Fiji's Indian population, who are descendants of Indian indentured labourers brought to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, most of the Sikhs came to Fiji as free immigrants. Most Sikhs established themselves as farmers. Sikhs also came to Fiji as policemen, teachers and preachers. In recent years large numbers of Sikhs have emigrated from Fiji, especially to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Sikhs in Fiji are generally referred to as Punjabis.
This is a synopsis of organisations formed by Indians in Fiji. When they became free from the bondage of indenture and were able to organise themselves, they founded numerous organizations to seek social and political justice. These organisations promoted the teaching of Indian languages and religious practices and also to helped others in time of need. Some of the successful organisations are listed below in order in which they were established. Some, such as the National Federation Party, are no longer exclusively Indian, but are still predominantly so.
Kallu Dhani Ram is the General Secretary of the oldest farmers union in Fiji, the Fiji Kisan Sangh. He has been one of the few people who has been involved with the Sangh since being inspired to join it by its founder, Ayodhya Prasad, in 1939. He has made valuable contribution to the sugar industry in Fiji.