The decision of Labour MP Dr Rajen Prasad not to seek re-election to Parliament in the general election scheduled to be held on September 20, 2014 has surprised many on both sides of the Debating Chamber.
His decision has also been a subject of discussion among the members of the various communities with whom he has had long-standing relationship and understanding in various capacities over the years.
As a Parliamentarian for two terms of three years each, he has brought dignity and honour to the role and as a member of the Labour Party of which he was the Spokesperson for Immigration and Associate Spokesperson for Ethnic Affairs and Social Development, he has been vociferous and candid.
He stood for the policies and programmes of his Party but seldom breached the legitimate limits of propriety and decency even while holding the ruling National Party and its Government to account. He has held human values close to his heart and spoke without reservation on issues which he felt affected the average New Zealanders.
As an academic, a public servant and as a politician, he pursued excellence with core principles of honesty, integrity and accountability, earning in the process the respect and attention of the wider communities in New Zealand and beyond. While it is hard for politicians to earn, and worse, retain public esteem, Dr Prasad has always been mentioned as an intellectual and ‘a likeable fellow’ even by his political adversaries.
His academic life as Associate Professor of Social Policy and Social Work at Massey University provided him with a deep insight into one of the most sacred institutions of all societies- the Family – and the need to revisit issues that affect people.
I have had the pleasure and honour of knowing him almost from the time I migrated to New Zealand 15 years ago, at which time he made news every other day as the Race Relations Conciliator and Human Rights Commissioner (he was also a Member of the Residence Review Board). If those were difficult roles with pulls and pressures from everywhere, he filled them with an inimitable skill with added value.
His amiable nature, fine manners and most important of all, his respect for various faiths, religions, beliefs and human groupings made him a welcome member to each of these and soon its accepted brother.
It is also to his credit that his appointment as the first Chief Families Commissioner in June 2004 had the approval of lawmakers across party-lines.
Announcing his appointment as the Chief Families Commissioner in our July 1, 2004 issue, we had Dr Prasad as saying that the family is a primary social institution in our society for socialising the young, for promoting the wellbeing of its members including the elderly and for maintaining continuity across generations.
For Dr Prasad, the significance of a well-knit family and its traditions and values is a matter of personal experience. He is 11th child of 14 children and his extended family accounts for more than 90 grandchildren and great grandchildren corresponding to different family types, living in various parts of the world.
“But we are connected as a family in numerous ways,” he would tell us often.
“As a Pacific Indian, I have a deep appreciation of what it means to be part of this family, of the support it can provide and of the many issues that emerge for its members. I am aware of many of the similarities as well as differences between our family and those from many other cultures, and yet we share a common bond and express it through love and respect.”
Announcing his decision to retire from Parliament, Dr Prasad said, “I have approached my professional and public life over the last 20 years in the spirit of moving on to new challenges once I had made my parliamentary contribution. My sixth year as a parliamentarian has also been a time to reflect on this role and consider other challenges I might accept.
“I have been enormously privileged to have been given an opportunity to represent ethnic communities in general and the Indian community in particular in Parliament and in the Labour caucus. This has happened at a time of enormous ethnic diversification.”
At a farewell party hosted by the Government at Parliament House on August 6, 2008 in honour of Dr Prasad on his retirement as the Chief Families Commissioner, then Prime Minster Helen Clark said,” Dr Rajen Prasad has done an exemplary job in establishing and running the Families Commission as an autonomous agency to foster family values, and more important, find ways and means of making families work for their good and for the good of the community.”
Peter Dunne, who was then Revenue Minister (currently Internal Affairs Minister) said, “We will all be eternally grateful for the work you have done as the Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission and the integrity and honesty that you brought to the job.”
In every sense of the expression, the departure of Dr Prasad from Parliament would spell a loss for the Chamber and equally so for Labour. However, the people of New Zealand in general and those dealing with Bank of Baroda in particular could be assured of his ongoing role as the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Members of Uttarakhand Association of New Zealand of which he was appointed Chief Patron on Easter Sunday can also be assured of his contributions in that role.
For the rest of us, Dr Prasad will hopefully be available more frequently for long sessions of matters of universal interest over a cup of coffee.
We take pride in having known a great thinker and intellectual stimulant and wish him well in his life and future career.