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You know it must be time to head for the hustings when party leaders step out of the political thicket to reveal once again their stripes and spots and to bare their fangs, reminding their constituents that they still have their concerns at heart; to assure them that they are still relevant.

This time around, New Zealand First has been first off the blocks, way ahead of the upcoming election season, making those familiar jingoistic noises as is its won’t, come election time. It has been doing this for years, targeting these messages at the bulk of it’s well established, the loyal constituency of greying New Zealanders, particularly in the provinces.

Both Winston Peters and Shane Jones have picked on the Kiwi Indian community in the past couple of weeks with Jones asking, “disgruntled Indians to take the next flight home” and making references to bringing their “whole village” to New Zealand.

The community has objected strongly to these remarks and National Party MP Kanwaljit Bakshi has reportedly sought clarification from the Prime Minister about her cabinet ministers’ unfortunate utterances.

The NZ First leaders were both responding to the Indian community rightly voicing its concerns to Immigration New Zealand’s new policies with regard to migration of parents and spouses joining Kiwi Indians to live with them in New Zealand. Peters and Jones once again played to the gallery of their constituents at the expense of one of the largest and fastest-growing ethnic communities in New Zealand.

The two leaders have shown an utter lack of sensitivity to a substantial ethnic group’s traditional practices – in this case, arranged marriages – casting aspersions on two individuals in such a relationship as ‘partners’ as is ostensibly understood in New Zealand. Peters was reported saying, “It’s clear as daylight – they’re not partners – full stop.”

This has ticked off the Indian community and brought them together as they see it as a clear cultural affront. It will not be long before its displeasure with the New Zealand First leaders’ unreasonable stand and their hurtful public utterances rub off on their largest coalition partner as well.

Jones’ and Peters’ verbal fireworks came in the midst of the Diwali season when the festival was being celebrated across the country with an intensity rarely seen before: Diwali is clearly and firmly on the way to becoming a mainstream New Zealand festival if it’s not already one yet.

Every major city and town across New Zealand have sent in reports and pictures of their public Diwali celebrations to The Indian Weekender. Social media feeds are full of New Zealanders of all origins participating wholeheartedly in office Diwali functions, rejoicing in the feasting in colourful ethnic clothing and digging into the endless rows of sweet and savoury treats.

Over in the UK, it’s election time as well, albeit much earlier than ours. The Indian community there, which is a much bigger force to reckon with, has been feted by none other than Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in his Diwali message not just spoke glowingly about the festival but also praised the Indian community for its hard work, entrepreneurship, contribution to public life and its peace-loving nature in a video that has gone viral. Johnson has made the right move in getting British Indians on his side for the December election.

While Britain has moved on – like the United States has – some New Zealand politicians still remain in the anachronistic 1950s monocultural mindset of the lack of consideration, even tolerance, for anything and anybody who is different.

The New Zealand First leaders’ utterances go well beyond hurting just one community. Their general, divisive tone is bound to cause concern across ethnic groups – a collective demographic that is no longer insignificant in New Zealand’s electoral math.

It is now up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to respond appropriately and early to the National Party MP’s request for a clarification if the Labour Party is indeed serious about containing the damage that this has caused to her government’s professed egalitarianism, multiculturism and inclusiveness.

First published in the Indian Weekender of November 2, 2019