National Party Leader Simon Bridges met with key leaders and representatives of New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) and Auckland Indian Association (AIA) – two of the oldest and largest Indian associations - to clear the air on the controversy around his perceived race-related comments against the Indian community.
The associations had expressed their concerns on the content of the leaked-tape of the conversation between Mr Bridges and his then colleague National MP Jamie Lee-Ross in a press release on October 23.
“NZICA would like to have discussions with the Leader of the National Party, and the President of the National Party,” the press release had then stated, putting forward an explicit desire to meet with Mr Bridges and address the concerns of the Indian community.
Following that request, Mr Bridges was able to meet with key leaders of the two associations on Monday, November 19, and expressed his regret on the content of the recording – an explanation that has been largely accepted and understood. Kiwi-Indian MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi was also present at the meeting at the Gandhi Centre.
Narendra Bhana, President Auckland Indian Association told the Indian Weekender, “From our point of view it was great that he was open and honest about the mistake that has happened and was willing to front it up.
“He reiterated that what was said in that leaked tape does not reflect the culture within the Party,” Narendra Bhana said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Bhikhu Bhana, President of NZICA also said, “We are reasonably satisfied after our meeting with National Party Leader.”
However, Bhikhu Bhana also emphasised NZICA’s desire to keep working with the National Party, and other major political parties wherever possible, to ensure that there was no discrimination against Kiwi-Indians in Parliament or outside of Parliament.
“There should be no discrimination against any ethnic group, Parliament or otherwise, in New Zealand,” Mr Bhana said.
“We plan to meet National Party Leader again and work together to remove some perceptions within the community that two Chinese MPs are better than two Indian MPs in any way,” Mr Bhana said.
Meanwhile, Mr Bridges is also reported to have reiterated that National Party was a trailblazer in ethnic communities in the meeting with leaders of two major Indian Associations.
Earlier in mid-October Mr Bridges was caught up in the controversy of a leaked-tape by the then National Party colleague, (now discredited and no longer with the party) MP Jamie Lee-Ross, where he was seen tacitly backing the assertions against the value of Indian MPs in the Party.
The fiasco within the National Party had attracted much criticism from the community including India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, Sanjiv Kohli, who denounced the scandal on his personal twitter account, “Shocking attitude. Highly inconsistent with NZ values. Hopefully an aberration. India and Indians respect and admire this country and its people.”
Mr Bridges and the National Party has since then been building bridges with the Indian community in New Zealand.
This included Mr Bridges fronting up the most significant Indian community event at the iconic Auckland Diwali Festival and expressing regret to be part of the critical conversation and emphasising that the Party had been a trail-blazer for ethnic communities in NZ.