Sir Vijay Raghubar Singh, KBE (13 July, 1931 - 25 September, 2006) was an Indo-Fijian lawyer and politician, who held Cabinet office in the 1960s and 1970s. He served in Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's government in a variety of positions, including as 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.
Vijay Singh was born in Yalalevu
and was the eldest of 14 children. He came from a prominent Arya Samaj
family in Ba. He attended the local Arya Samaj school for primary education and obtained his secondary education at Marist Brothers High School in Suva
. With no tertiary education available in Fiji, and not able to afford to travel overseas for further education, he took up employment in his uncle's accountancy and import business. Seeing his determination to pursue further studies, his uncle offered to finance him to study law. He began legal studies at Lincoln's Inn
in 1951. He graduated with a Law
degree in 1953 after only two years, the shortest period of study permissible to sit the final examination. He became a Barrister
of the High Courts of England
, Australia, and Fiji. In February 1954, he returned to Fiji and began to practise in Labasa
. He also had offices in Nadi
and Suva. In 1956 he married Maya, with whom he had a son, Vinay, and a daughter, Madhur.
Contribution to the sugar industry
While in Labasa, Vijay Singh became involved in cane farmers unions and was the President of the Labasa Kisan Sangh
. He was also a key player in the formation of the Federation of Cane Growers
(an umbrella organisation of various sugar cane unions to negotiate with the CSR) and the subsequent negotiations that took place with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company
regarding the 1960 sugar cane contract. He, together with Ayodhya Prasad
, of the Viti Levu
-based Kisan Sangh
, signed the 1960 cane contract in defiance of the majority of the Federation of Cane Growers. He later became the President of a united Kisan Sangh and held this office until the mid 1990s. He was an active leader of the joint committee of all sugar cane growers associations, established to restructure the sugar industry and when the Sugar Cane Growers Council
was established in 1985, he was selected as its first Chief Executive. He alo became a director of the Fiji Sugar Marketing Company
, thus providing sugar cane farmers a direct say in how Fiji's sugar was marketed.
In 1965, together with Ratu Kamisese Mara
, and other organisations opposed to the Federation Party, he was involved in the formation of Fiji's first multi-racial political party, the Alliance Party. He joined the Alliance Party independently of Ayodhya Prasad's National Congress of Fiji
and worked himself to a position of influence within the Party by taking up the posts of Treasurer
and Publicity Manager. When the Congress was wound up in 1967, its members joined the Indian division of the Alliance Party, the Indian Alliance, with Vijay R. Singh as President
. In the 1966 election
, he was elected to the Legislative Council from the East-Central cross-voting seat which covered Vanua Levu
. The Federation Party had no hope of winning the seat and to confuse voters selected another Vijay Singh. From then on he started to use the name, Vijay R. Singh (Vijay Raghubar Singh - using his father's first name as his middle name.) The ploy by the Federation Party backfired, as Vijay R. Singh's opponent was a clerk and he asked the electorate, "Which Vijay Singh do you wish to vote for - the clerk or the lawyer?"
Following the Alliance Party's win in the election, he was appointed the Minister of Social Services, a portfolio that had been held by A.D. Patel prior to the election. The portfolio encompassed Health, Education, Housing and Social Welfare. It was during his term as Minister that the University of the South Pacific was established. He also introduced a program to extend secondary education to rural areas by the establishment of Junior Secondary Schools. He was later appointed the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives and was instrumental in the establishment of a flour mill, steel rolling mill and a second brewery in Fiji. He played an active part in multi-party talks held in London, culminating in the new constitution and Fiji's independence in 1970.
Alienation from the Alliance Party
In the 1972 election
, it was clear that Vijay R. Singh was losing favour with the leadership of the Alliance Party, when he was not nominated for his existing safe seat and but was given another (less safe) seat in a constituency where he did not have any political following. He won the election and was made Minister for Housing, Urban Development and Social Welfare. Not happy with this "demotion" he soon resigned as a Minister and resumed private practice. He was then elected Deputy Speaker
of the House of Representatives
. In mid-1975, when the Minister of Education announced that the Government would not subsidise school fees for non-Fijians, Vijay Singh was among its most vocal critics, describing the decision as " deplorable because of its distressingly repellent odour of crude racialism." In 1976, he was elected the Speaker and resigned from the presidency of the Indian Alliance. In June 1976, Vijay R. Singh became the first Indo-Fijian to be knighted by the Queen for his services as a citizen, as a member of parliament, Minister and Speaker.In the 1977 election
, he lost the pre-selection for Alliance Party's nomination for his National seat. He then began speaking out publicly on issues affecting the Indian community but accepted nomination for an Indian Communal seat that he could not win.
The Alliance Party still needed him as they needed a qualified lawyer to be the Attorney General. He was appointed to the Senate and given the portfolio of Attorney General and Minister for Economic Development. Differences between him and the Alliance leadership widened and he resigned in 1979. He joined the National Federation Party (NFP), whose leader's moderate style appealed to him, and soon became a key adviser to its leader, Jai Ram Reddy. He won the 1982 election on the NFP ticket in a national constituency in his home town of Ba but his attempts to use foreign media to influence the election backfired and the NFP lost the election.
In 1985 he resigned his seat in the House of Representatives and began work as chief executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council but this career was cut short by the Fiji coups of 1987
. In order to bring pressure on the regime in Fiji to restore democracy, he lobbied at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Vancouver in October 1987 to have Fiji expelled from the Commonwealth
. He succeeded but was barred from returning to Fiji having being declared persona non-grata. He then settled in Australia. After the restoration of democracy in Fiji he returned and resumed his law practice in Suva in 1991.
Singh's last public contribution was his book, Speaking Out, published in 2006, in which he recited his version of the events surrounding the coups in Fiji. The book offended Saula Telawa (the leader of the fringe New Nationalist Party), who called for the book to be banned in Fiji Singh's strident criticism of some ministers of the Methodist and other churches for supporting the coups was insensitive to Christian beliefs and to the predominantly Christian indigenous Fijians, claimed Telawa, whose party calls for indigenous supremacy and for Christianity to be established as the state religion.
Singh's memoir also made controversial claims that Sitiveni Rabuka, the architect of the 1987 coups, had personally told him that he was the main instigator behind the scenes of the 2000 coup also, and that his main target was not the government of Mahendra Chaudhry, but the aging Ratu Mara, who was now President. Pleading sub judice, Rabuka refused to comment. In an audio interview broadcast on Fiji Live on 17 August, barely six weeks before his death, Singh claimed that an emotional Ratu Mara, who had abruptly resigned the Presidency in the midst of the coup crisis, had told him of his own suspicions about Rabuka. Although unsubstantiated, Singh's claims were not new: Mara's own last recorded interview had expressed strong suspicions about Rabuka's possible involvement in the 2000 coup. Singh's claimed conversation with Rabuka was, however, the first known purported confession from Rabuka.
Sir Vijay R. Singh died on 25 September 2006 in Brisbane, Australia, after a long battle with cancer.