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New Zealand election dominates India's 77th Independence Day celebrations

Politics hogged the spotlight at this year's Indian Independence Day celebrations in Auckland over the weekend as candidates from Labour, National and the ACT Party all urged the Indian diaspora to vote in their favour in the general election in October.

Ethnic Communities Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan was quick to defend the work of her portfolio, while former National MP turned ACT candidate Parmjeet Parmar described it as a "token ministry". The parties have clashed on this issue before.

ACT candidate for Mount Roskill Rahul Chopra went further, claiming that his party is inclusive.

"We are a party of all New Zealanders irrespective of their origin working collectively for the provision of New Zealand," Chopra said.

National leader Christopher Luxon spoke of his love for India when introducing his party's candidates of Indian origin to the audience.

"I want to make going to India a big priority in my first term as the prime minister," Luxon said. "We should be expanding the trade opportunities between our two countries."

Bhav Dhillon, honorary consul of India in Auckland, was happy that all Indian diaspora organisations were able to come together and celebrate the country's Independence Day under one umbrella.

"This has been the practice for few years now," Dhillon said. "This time, we have taken it even further. From now on, two regional organisations in rotation will be co-hosting the grand celebrations every year."

Responsibility for this year's festivities was shared by the Auckland Marathi Association and the Auckland Tamil Association.

"We welcome you all to India's 77th Independence Day celebrations here in Auckland," said Neha Nalawade from the Marathi Association, standing beside Vai Ravindran from the Tamil Association and addressing more than 1000 attendees.

The event saw more than 15 songs as well as dance and music performances from various regions of India, including Kerala, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

On the sidelines, though, several serious issues were discussed.

Billboard depicting the Khalistan separatist leader Amritpal Singh in Auckland CBD in June.

Billboard depicting the Khalistan separatist leader Amritpal Singh in Auckland CBD in June. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Radhakrishnan said New Zealand was "not immune" to increased Khalistani influence worldwide but refused to support any calls to establish a separatist state.

"The Punjabi communities are an integral part of our multicultural fabric and we as a government always engage with all the elements within it," she said. "This should not be seen as our support to any such perceived Khalistani activity here in New Zealand."

Last year, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta expressed "zero tolerance" for anti-India fringe elements that seek to divide people on ethnic and religious lines during a press briefing with her Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar.

On the issue of overstayers, many of whom hail from India, Dhillon said: "They are people of Indian origin. If their passports have expired and they want to go to India or get their renewal done, we are always there to support them. We have done it in the past. People should approach us with their individual cases."

Meanwhile, celebrations in the capital were led by the Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan.

"I commend the Indian diaspora in New Zealand for preserving and promoting India's rich cultural heritage and traditions," she said in her message to the community.

The Indian mission also organised an event commemorating the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day on 14 August.

In Hamilton, the Waikato Indian Association organised an event on Sunday evening.

Children celebrating India's Independence Day in Christchurch.

Children celebrating India's Independence Day in Christchurch. Photo: Surinder Tandon

In Tauranga, the Tauranga and Western Bay Indian Association members hoisted the Indian flag at Toi Ohami, Windermere.

In Christchurch, Independence Day festivities started early in the morning.

"In our garden city, the crowd braved the morning chill and was entertained by a local children's dance group after the flag-hoisting and singing of India's national anthem," said Hitesh Sharma, one of the event's organisers in Christchurch.

In Dunedin, the Indian and the Pakistan communities also organised their respective Independence Day celebrations over the weekend.

Carrying on the festivities, the Pakistan Association of New Zealand will be celebrating Pakistan's Independence Day on 20 August in Auckland. A day earlier, the Indian community in New Plymouth will conclude Indian Independence Day celebrations in New Zealand with a festive gathering.

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