I believe that our collective strength as a nation lies in our diversity. We are strong because of our diversity, not in spite of it.
My experience at two recent international conferences – the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) in Bangladesh and the PIO Parliamentarians Conference in India, strengthened my conviction on the value of diversity.
Organised by India’s External Affairs Ministry, the first PIO Parliamentarians Conference, held on January 9, 2018, attracted more than 140 Parliamentarians and Mayors of Indian origin from around the world.
Among the speakers were Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the Conference, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Senior Congress Leader Shashi Tharoor.
They focused on India’s rapid development in recent years, provided economic outlook and lauded the achievements of people of Indian origin (PIO) overseas.
New Zealand was well represented by three MPs of Indian origin (including me, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Dr Parmjit Parmar) and Kapiti Coast Mayor K Gurunathan.
India is one of the largest and fastest growing economies, the world’s largest democracy and one of New Zealand’s key partners in the Asia-Pacific region.
There are many opportunities for us to strengthen our socio-cultural and economic ties.
The Conference was noteworthy because of the diversity of its delegates.
Guyana sent the largest delegation, comprising 20 MPs and three Mayors, including former President Bharat Jagdeo.
Fiji, South Africa and many African nations were also well-represented.
I met delegates from Malaysia, United Kingdom, Canada and United States of America.
I was surprised to learn politicians of Indian origin were in Switzerland, Portugal and the Philippines.
Some delegates were visiting India for the first time. Jamaican Attorney-General Marlene Malahoo Forte knew that her ancestors were from Mumbai but identified herself as a Jamaican.
By contrast, there were many of us (including me) born in India, raised outside the country but still identified strongly with our homeland.
The CPC in Bangladesh had a different tenor.
It was attended by about 600 delegates from different Commonwealth countries.
The Conference provided us a platform to share knowledge on issues like Climate Change, gender equality and youth engagement.
We elected Emilia Monjowa Lifaka (Cameroon) as the new Chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to succeed Shirin Sharmin Choudhury (Bangladesh).
Multicultural New Zealand
We have over 200 ethnicities represented and over 160 languages spoken in New Zealand. We have an innate understanding of different countries with the ability to communicate in English and in other languages, which is a significant advantage.
I connected instinctively with delegates from Fiji, Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands.
The Indian delegation was delighted that I was born in India and that my parents live there. I was privileged to meet delegates from Singapore, a country in which I was raised and educated. I was thrilled to speak to the Malaysian delegation in Malay, which I learnt for 12 years as the second language in Singapore.
Those of us who have strong connections with other nations are a distinct advantage to New Zealand. In addition to the contributions that we make socially, culturally, through our work and other aspects of our lives, we are a bridge between New Zealand and other nations. For those of us from India, it means we have a significant role to play as India’s relevance globally continues to grow.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan is Member of Parliament on Labour List. She was New Zealand’s delegate at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in Bangladesh from November 1 to 8, 2017 and the PIO Parliamentarians Conference held in Delhi on January 9, 2018. Additional Reading, “A full-time father complements Prime Minister’s Motherhood” on Page 2.
- Priyanca Radhakrishnan with New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi
- Priyanca Radhakrishnan at the Mahatma Gandhi Exhibition, Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra, New Delhi