More than a hundred Kiwi-Indians including a large contingent of Kiwi-Indian journalists attended an event in Auckland to meet His Excellency Mr Muktesh Pardeshi, the new High Commissioner of India to New Zealand on the eve of the Auckland Diwali event.
Convened by the Consulate of India in Auckland at its premises in Onehunga, the event was structured in two parts, with the first being an interaction with Kiwi-Indian media practitioners and the second with leaders of Kiwi-Indian community organisations.
Mr Pardeshi addressed the two gatherings with his usual candour and friendliness, answering all questions, including the more pointed ones on sensitive issues from the media contingent.
He said though his present appointment began two months ago, he had previous engagements with New Zealand when he worked in India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in charge of South East Asia and the Pacific in the early 2000s. He said he played a “small part” in initiating cultural troupes for Auckland’s Diwali festival beginning 2002.
“It was not as though Diwali wasn’t celebrated before then. But this was the first time that it became an official celebration by the New Zealand Government,” he said. He briefly traced the history of Indians in New Zealand saying from some 2000 individuals in 1951, people of Indian origin numbered 250,000 today, with many Indian languages counted among the most spoken ones in the country today.
Mr Pardeshi said that Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Jacinda Ardern had already met twice so far and that Ms Ardern was among the six world leaders who were invited to speak on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations in New York recently. That was a mark of recognition of Ms Ardern’s actions following the Christchurch attacks, he added.
He said though friendship between the two countries was on an excellent footing, trade and investment needed to be elevated to higher levels. “Friendship is all very good, but it must also result in more business and benefits to both nations,” he said. He invited NZ companies to participate in the Make In India initiative.
Efforts were ongoing on this front, and he was looking forward to the forthcoming India New Zealand Business Council Annual Summit, he said. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters would be visiting India with an entourage early next year, Mr Pardeshi revealed. He also said that plans were afoot to organise a festival of India sometime in 2020. Strengthening an already strong people-to-people relationship was important, he said.
Answering questions, Mr Pardeshi said the new Indian High Commission building and premises in Wellington would be ready for commissioning in 2021 but did not say if and when Prime Minister Modi would visit New Zealand.
In his previous roles at the MEA, Mr Pardeshi led several initiatives in e-governance including revolutionising India’s passport system. He replied to several questions from the media on the subject, particularly related to cross country documentation, OCI and other procedural matters concerning Kiwi-Indians and their affairs in India.
Media asked several questions on issues that are central to Kiwi-Indians living in New Zealand. Among these were cross-border marital and domestic issues, abandonment of spouses and elderly parents, student visas, unfair and exploitative employment practices toward Indian immigrants and discrimination.
Mr Pardeshi replied by pointing to measures that both the MEA and the High Commission’s office in Wellington are taking to tackle these issues. One of these is a portal called ‘Madad’, which allows complainants to upload their grievances directly to the authority, especially in the case of marital abandonment.
It was not always easy to follow up on cases, Mr Pardeshi said. This was because of the different laws that the two countries followed. In New Zealand, privacy laws were particularly to be taken account when pursuing cases, he said.
Among other topics discussed were immigration, the proliferation of the Hindi language in New Zealand and the evergreen issue of direct flights to India.
Honorary Consul of India in Auckland Bhav Dhillon welcomed the High Commissioner and introduced both the High Commissioner and Second secretary Paramjeet Singh. He said the new High Commissioner is approachable, simple and down to earth.
Mr Dhillon acknowledged and thanked the strong media presence saying New Zealand had the highest per capita concentration of ethnic Indian media with news outlets in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and radio in several Indian languages as well.
Mr Paramjeet Singh urged visiting Indian students and tourists to exercise extreme caution while driving and travelling around New Zealand especially in view of the spike of accidents that have been noticed around the holiday period over the past couple of years. He also shed light on the repatriation of mortal remains of deceased Indian citizens in New Zealand.
Mr Singh also delivered the vote of thanks.