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Dev Nadkarni

Last month a report in online media outlet The Newsroom said, “Voters in the Indian communities are particularly unhappy with the Labour-NZ First coalition’s migration rhetoric and policies,” in an in-depth article headlined ‘Unhappy Indian voters eye shift to National’.

Last weekend’s unfortunate comments by Shane Jones criticising Indian immigrants might well have accelerated that shift to blue.

Making a point about New Zealand’s growing population and NZ First’s plans to bring to centerstage a conversation on a ‘Maximum Population Policy’ in the coming election, 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.”

In the same Newshub interview 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.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern publicly criticised Jones’ comments saying they were “loose” and “wrong”.

She said, “When I see Minister Jones next I intend to [bring it up]. But I will very happily put on record my position… that on many occasions I have witnessed Minister Jones be both loose with his language and also be wrong, and on this occasion he was both,” as The Newshub reported.

In her media stand-up yesterday, the Prime Minister reminded reporters that this was a coalition arrangement under the MMP system and an election year, as if justifying her coalition partner’s rant. But as well as being a coalition partner, he is also her cabinet minister and she could well have a taken a more stringent line.

Her response won’t wash with the Indian community. In fact, National Party leader Simon Bridges clearly stole her thunder saying that Jones’ comment was racist and that he should be reprimanded once again reiterating that National would not work with NZ First. Those words will undoubtedly be welcomed by the Indian immigrant community.

Traditionally, a sizeable chunk of Indian immigrants have stood solidly behind Labour. But more recently, particularly since this coalition government has come to power, that support has steadily wavered. Not least because of repeated pronouncements by Labour’s coalition partner NZ First, whose leaders have continually targeted Indian immigrants for one reason or another in the media.

NZ First has little to lose by alienating the Indian community. But the loss will be telling for Labour, whose leadership will be seen as being unable to control its coalition partner’s repeated generalised criticisms obviously designed to play to the galleries of its shrinking provincial support base.

The Kiwi-Indian community can expect more such sprays from NZ First’e leaders as the election nears.

Unfortunately, though, New Zealand democracy will be the poorer because such repeated insulting comments, rabble rousing and fear mongering will only succeed in distracting attention from any genuine underlying concerns that richly deserve civilised, collegial debate in the interests of all New Zealanders and their collective future.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender on March 4 2020