Indians in New Zealand had to wait 118 long years (from 1890 to 2008) to see its first political representation in the New Zealand parliament. And it came from someone, who was hardly in the country for 7 odd years. But who could be the better and the first person in the New Zealand political history to represent Indian community in the NZ parliament than Mr Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi.
They saw, you got to spend time with someone to know someone, but Mr Bakshi is the true reflection of traditional Indian gentleness & humbleness. One can easily feel his comforting presence. He seems very simple and unassuming, yet an achiever having traits of determination and hard work as unfailing assets with him.
He was the first Indian and the first Sikh member of parliament from Indian ethnic background to represent the Indians in NewZealand parliament and now this is his third term running. He has been recently awarded the Pravasi Bharatiiya Samman by the Government of India for his services to bring the two great nations together.
Indianz X-PRESS took this opportunity to interact with Mr Bakshi to get some insight from someone who is the flag bearer of the Indian community in political spectrum of NZ. And to know how he feels, we the Indians are doing, fairing and where to go from here in this great land opportunities.
Q- You have been recently awarded the Pravaasi Bahritiya Samman……..can you give us some backdrop of that ?
Ans- I feel hounered that Government of India has recognized my efforts in New Zealand, I am very passionate about the relationship between New Zealand and India. I was also the part of the delegation went to India which was headed by our Prime Minister John Key. So yes I feel privileged and honored for the recognition.
Q- How was the experiences?
Ans- It was great to be able to bridge and bring two fantastic countries together, which has so many things in common like common-wealth , cricket , English, Westminster type of governance, etc, etc. More interestingly to know that we (First Indian on record) officially arrived in NZ in 1890, since then till 2008 there was no political representation of the Indian community. And to be able to do that is a huge sense of fulfillment, achievement and off-course responsibility.
Q- In a very short span of time, you made a mark in politics here being the first Indian to represent in NZ parliament, how did it all unfolded?
Ans- I arrived in New Zealand in 2001, from a political family background in India, I had an inclination towards politics, and with no goal and ambition I joined National party which was at its lowest that time. Many people said, Labour is close to Indians, but my heart felt close to National due to its more business inclined politics. And I was shocked when with-in seven years of my landing in New Zealand they offered me to contest elections. I always from day one felt at home with National, it has always been very welcoming. I did a lot of ground work in those first seven years the whole effort was very satisfying.
Q- As a public figure whats the most challenging aspect of serving the society ?
Ans- It’s hard to satisfy people at times. The background they coming from India, it’s a different political set up. There MP’s can do a lot of things or can get it done, but here its different. We have lot of restrictions and challenges. People expect that, just pick-up the phone and get it done, but its not the way here. Specially people from village back ground do have expectations like that. But I feel honoured to serve them in whatever capacity I can.
Q- Do tell us something about your family back ground, parents and also some memorable childhood experiences which helped you creating the person you are today ?
Ans- Unfortunately I lost my both parents in 1996-97 within the span of 8 months, which was unfortunate. We all siblings even after growing up lived together. 15 people under one roof, one kitchen. We all were very closely bonded. You can imagine the atmosphere of love, warmth and sharing we were brought-up with.
Q- You are soft spoken humble and very approachable, does that comes naturally to you or is it a political statement ?
Ans- I don’t think anybody can pretend 24 x 7. I am what I am , so I can’t see any reason to change anything for political reasons.
Q- How do you see the Indians fairing in NZ society, economically, job wise and mixing with other ethnicities?
Ans- I think we are opening up now. There is huge potential for us. Even if you look at the numbers of the Indians in police services here, I think its around 60 now, that too with-in couple of years only. It shows our growing impact and contribution to society. Indians are making their mark in accounting firms, law firms and so many other areas. I think there is huge potential. But if somebody is only coming for making dollars then it may be not the right option. We have such a great life style here. For me this is the land of opportunities. This is one place where you can do and achieve, whatever you want. Only two things are required, you have to be patient and hardworking. If I can become the member of parliament, then you can imagine what a land of opportunity this is for everyone.
Q- Do you think that Indians are still in very few numbers when it comes to political representation, if yes why is it so?
Ans- I don’t think so, we have three MP’s right now in the parliament. So we are well represented but we need do a lot of work at the local level, which we do lack currently. I am trying that in Auckland but at times I feel people lack motivation and hard work there. We got to encourage the young generation for more political participations and also have to show them the path. And I am happy to help and guide anyone anytime.
Q- Been the first Indian and the first Sikh to represent the NZ parliament, do you feel a lot of responsibility on your shoulders ………?
Ans- Oh yes most definitely, thats why I have promised myself and to everyone that I will do everything for the next generation to come and play your role in the political sphere of this beautiful country.
Q- You came to NZ in 2001, in these 15 years what difference you see in the Indians here in NZ then and now?
Ans- We have grown in numbers, visibility is there, number of Indian outlets, restaurants are almost in all corners, more passion about Indian food. Other ethnicities have started trying Indian recipes. Getting more confident in expressing themselves at different levels. They are showing their hard working and intelligent workplace skills and getting acknowledged for that.
Q- How are India – NZ business;s collaborating ?
Ans- They are growing, all big IT Indian companies have their own offices in Wellington now, like Infosys, Satyam, TCS, Wipro etc. There are more companies inclined to set up their base in Christchurch. ONGC has got the oil exploration permission in Taranaki. So yes things are very bright and positive on business front as well.
Q- And how much has NZ changed in accepting immigrants in general in these 15 years?
Ans- They were always welcoming, otherwise why would we be here. If we confine ourselves then it would be a challenge. Like in Diwali functions you see more white faces then others. Same as if you go to the Lantern festival (Chiense) in Auckland you will see so many Indians, Pakeha’s there, so people in general love to mix if given the opportunity. The important thing is to open yourself first.
When we came in 2001, the only color in dresses we used see was mostly black n white, the food you could go out is European, English food or fish n chips, but now you see its so colorful, you can get the food from anywhere in the world, that’s the huge reflection of things changing and acceptability growing.
Q- Whats the national’s immigration policy in the context?
Ans- Very open, we are not restricting anybody. We want migrants to come in. We are maintaining the figures of 40000 immigrants per year to come to NZ. We have an aging problem in New Zealand. We want migrants to come and contribute in NZ’s growth and prosperity.
Q- I am told Prime Minister John Key was ecstatic hearing that you have been facilitated by the Govt of India for your contribution in bridging India and NZ at different levels……..can you share his reaction ?
Ans- He was very pleased with the news and immediately he put the news in the National party’s newsletter. It was a very proud moment for me. We are going to have a celebration party for that and PM has said he will be the part of that celebration.
Q- Message to the community?
Ans- Keep doing the hard work, be loyal to the country. Be loyal to whatever you are doing. You can achieve anything. Do make sure that kids get best education. Sky is the limit for them. Help them follow-their dream and chase it, I say it again this is the land of opportunity for everyone. Just put the hard yards behind it.