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In his usual blusterous manner, Cabinet Minister Shane Jones once again targeted his longtime bête noire –Indian immigrants in New Zealand. Naming a specific ethnic group in a general comment on air about NZ’s growing population was unabashedly for effect, and very probably, with a thinly-veiled ulterior motive aimed at his leader –but more of that in a moment.

In an interview on TV show Newshub last weekend Jones said, “If you want another million, two million, three million people, we should debate it and there should be a mandate, rather than opening up the options, unfettered, and everyone comes here from New Delhi.”

Making sure that the reference to ‘New Delhi’ was not just a casual off-the-cuff mention, he said, “I think the number of students that have come from India have ruined many of those institutions,” referring to NZ’s educational institutions. Really? How much have these institutions collected by way of ‘international fees’ from Indian students over the years?

This isn’t the first time Jones has targeted immigrant Indians and Kiwi Indians in recent times. On the contentious issue of partnership visas, particularly relating to culturally arranged marriages, still the norm in many Indian communities, he had earlier said, “You have no legitimate expectations in my view to bring your whole village to New Zealand, and if you don’t like it and you’re threatening to go home, then catch the next flight home.”

Jones’ is not the lone voice droning and ranting against Indian immigrants. Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has taken potshots against Indians over several years of his political career.

The timing of Jones’ mention of New Delhi and India in a poor light, is interesting. On that very same weekend that Jones was on air, his boss Peters was in New Delhi, India, leading a substantial official NZ delegation and meeting with highly placed officials and ministers of the Indian establishment.

Peters and his team were on a charm offensive, waxing eloquent on the India-NZ relationship in a glossy brochure titled ‘India-New Zealand 2025: Investing in the Relationship’: “New Zealand has benefited from skilled migrants, student exchanges, and rapid increases in tourist numbers from India.”

This is the exact opposite of what Jones said on TV. So, was there some sort of grand design to target Peters in a veiled way? We need not concern ourselves with NZ First’s internal politics, one-upmanship games or even for that matter the darkening clouds around the NZ First Foundation that has everyone in the party scurrying for cover.

However, what is concerning to Kiwi Indians is that Indian immigrants and Kiwi Indians have once again been used as cannon fodder in whipping up pre-election fervour in the party’s predominantly provincial, rightist supporters.

Pronouncements bordering on xenophobia might have stood them in good stead over the years delivering votes from their provincial constituency and kept the flock together but with NZ’s vastly changed demographic that tack is no longer a safe bet. The party’s spin doctors must know this.

Today, like it or not, some 11 per cent of voters in the Auckland region are of Indian origin and we don’t need a psephologist to tell us that this is a significant number that can have a bearing on any electoral result of New Zealand’s proportions. Statements like Jones’ are bound to turn proudly Indian voters away from his party in droves.

Despite being a coalition partner, Jones statement sharply goes against the grain of what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership of the Labour Party has come to assiduously stand for, especially in the past one year – inclusion, compassion and tolerance.

Though the credit for keeping the coalition waka afloat must necessarily go to Ardern’s sharp negotiating and navigating skills, it is greatly disappointing that as a senior partner in the coalition she has failed to rein in such pronouncements from NZ First leaders that so blatantly go against what the New Labour would have us believe it ostensibly stands for along with its other coalition partner, the Greens.

The Prime Minister did extremely well last week, when she stood up to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison telling him in no uncertain terms about NZ’s position on the deportation issue.

Now will the Prime Minister once again summon her considerable skills and courage to tell off the likes of Jones for the sake of what she avowedly stands for?

Or will she succumb to realpolitik and risk losing the support of the hordes from New Delhi and their entire villages that have legally made New Zealand their home, meanwhile adding more than five percent to the national GDP, to say nothing of their contribution to NZ’s brains trust and skills pool?

First appeared in The Indian Weekender dated 3 March 2020