Leaders representing nearly every Kiwi-Indian diaspora organisation in Auckland came together to farewell outgoing Indian High Commissioner Shri Muktesh Pardeshi at the Auckland Indian Association’s Mahatma Gandhi Centre last Sunday.

The impressive turnout reflected Shri Pardeshi’s popularity among Kiwi Indian communities across New Zealand. Among the more accessible, friendly and action-oriented envoys from India in recent decades, Shri Pardeshi’s stint in New Zealand has been marked by a range of substantial achievements, in spite of pandemic-related restrictions during a considerable part of his tenure.

Thanking the diaspora for its support and affection throughout his tenure, the High Commissioner outlined the important developments that marked his tenure in New Zealand. Among the more significant ones, was the opening of the new Chancery building in Wellington. In the making for more than a decade, the project picked up pace only in the past few years but has been plagued by delays.

The contractor assigned the project ceased operations just before Shri Pardeshi arrived in New Zealand, leaving the building half finished. His first task on arrival was to award the contract to a new company. He saw it completed and inaugurated just weeks before his tenure ended.

He described the salient features of the new facility that ultimately cost $90 million. As well as being a High Commission that will deliver consular services and represent the Republic of India in New Zealand, the facility is a hub for the Kiwi-Indian community, he said. The multipurpose auditorium and flexible spaces that can cater to a range of activities are designed to bring communities together. He said the new building was the cynosure of eyes in the diplomatic corps and that there wasn’t another chancery building as grand as this one in the capital.

The building symbolises the abiding interest of India in New Zealand: “It’s an expression of our close interest in India New Zealand relations and in the welfare of our people.” Inviting the community to participate and utilise the facilities afforded by the new facility, Shri Pardeshi said, “We will also partner with community organisations wherever they are, if they have something coming up in Wellington, please contact us.

Despite Covid-19, trade between NZ and India had continued to grow. “In spite of travel related challenges, both sides have maintained contact – only last week our two foreign ministers met in Rwanda, where they are there to attend to the Commonwealth Summit. Before that, they had met three months back in Paris. Six months back, they had a virtual meeting, just before the outbreak of Covid-19, the then Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters had gone to India with a big business delegation,” he said

Bilateral trade talks have also resumed, Shri Pardeshi indicated. “Last week, we had Foreign Office consultations in Delhi, and after more than a decade, for the first time, trade offices from both sides met in Delhi to resume discussions on how to take trade relations to the next level.”

The Vande Bharat flights from New Zealand to India that flew non-stop between the two destinations had set up a template for future non-stop direct flights, Shri Pardeshi said. There was some uncertainty about whether non-stop flights were possible in the beginning. “When some 20 flights came to Auckland and airlifted people... the template was set... direct flight in 16 hours plus [flying time] was possible.” He said that India’s Indigo Airlines will likely fly the direct route in the not too distant future.

The pandemic had unfortunately affected India’s global plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of her independence. “I had announced in August 2019 that there will be a festival of India. But once again because of the Covid-19 that has been on hold. Hopefully sometime later this year, we can start once again putting it into shape.

“The idea is will bring several cultural groups from India. And then we'll have 50 events around Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Christchurch and other places. That kind of cultural celebration we have not done so far at that scale. That festival of India will be supported by India's Ministry of Culture and Indian Council for Cultural Relations,” Shri Pardeshi revealed.

Expressing pride on Kiwi-Indian’s contribution to the NZ economy, Shri Pardeshi said, “One outstanding aspect of India NZ relations in our rich and well-integrated community that we have 250,000 people almost 5% of the population; 10% in Auckland, that's commendable. During my time we worked on a report to document economic contribution of Indians and we found out that community as a whole is contributing more than $10 billion to NZ’s economy.”

Reminiscing of his travels throughout the country he said, “We enjoyed the company of associations from north to south, from east to west... So happy that even in Invercargill, there is a community association and they celebrate Diwali, Holi and other festivals. I found Indian restaurants serving Indian dishes and I think they are the first contact for the Kiwi population to know a little about India. So the footprint of India and Indian culture is seen throughout NZ.”

While the Indian community was well established and well-integrated in NZ, he said it was important for the community as a whole to stay cohesive.

“We appreciate different community organisations celebrating their festivals in their own manner, but for the few national events I urge you to come together and celebrate as one. These are the events which concern every Indian – those should be done not in compartmentalised fashion. This should be done on a bigger scale and in the end bigger scale events become far more impressive. If every community starts celebrating separately, then it will be a localised and the grandeur of that festival will be lost. So I hope this message will go across to all community members.”

Community leaders presented Shri Muktesh and Smt Rakhi Pardeshi with mementoes and flowers at the end of the function. Narendra Bhana, President of the New Zealand Indian Central Association welcomed the gathering. Honorary Consul of India Bhav Dhillon, Auckland Indian Association President Dhansukh Lal and community leader Jeet Suchdev shared the dais and spoke at the event.

The speakers commended the High Commissioner for his leadership on various fronts including his hand-on involvement in helping the needy in the community during the pandemic by making available resources for food supplies and medication. They praised the his many achievements despite pandemic restrictions – especially seeing through the completion of the new chancery building and wholeheartedly supporting the Kiwi-Indian community’s many cultural projects around NZ.

The evening concluded with a light repast hosted by the Auckland Indian Association.