The role of the Indian diaspora in the New Zealand India bilateral relationship is expanding believes Professor Shekhar Bandhyopadhyay, the Director of New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI).

NZIRI is a national centre of Indian studies in New Zealand, which brings together a consortium of scholars actively engaged in research on India and India-New Zealand relations in seven New Zealand universities.

The Council of Victoria University of Wellington established the research institute in October 2012.

Recently, Prof Bandhyopadhyay travelled to India as the Co-Chair of Track II level delegation along with Asia NZ Foundation.

Speaking to the Indian Weekender about the visit and the current state of bilateral relations between the two countries, Prof Bandhyopadhyay said, "There is more willingness in India to invest in this relationship now."

Indian and New Zealand both receptive to diaspora

"Diaspora was underutilised for a long time. There was a less appreciation of effectiveness for the role diaspora in promoting the relationship between the two countries."

NZ has started using the Indian diaspora and valuing the diasporas in a significant way.

"In fact, I can tell you that we took a delegation of five and out five, two were Indian origin, and I was the co-leader of the delegations."

"That is symptomatic of the change," Prof Bandhyopadhyay asserts.

On the part of India, as well there was significant interest in the diaspora. Everywhere we went we were asked about Indian diasporas in NZ. How well are they organised, how effective they are. 

How articulate Indian diaspora is in public discourse. We could tell them that the Indian diaspora is doing really well.

We could tell them that Indian diaspora constitutes about 4 per cent, but they contribute about 8 per cent of national GDP.

India is warming up to RCEP

While New Zealand always had a global reputation of concluding its trade negotiations with significant speed, it is India that many experts believe have been dragging its feet from the ongoing talks on Free Trade Agreement 9FTA) between the countries.

In that regard, there is some welcome change of attitude in Indian establishment, believes Prof Bandyopadhyay.

"This time we have a very good reception from most of the think tanks we met. Even at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), we could feel that the government of India was ready to get NZ on board.

"The RCEP negotiations are going on which involves both India and New Zealand, and from what we could gather India is serious about RCEP."

I believe this relationship was always warm but lacked the substance.

New Zealand did not command that kind of attention as some of the big powers were getting in New Delhi.

But possibly that is changing.