Opinion & Analysis

Sharma Drama : An NZ-Indian View

The Gaurav Sharma saga will leave an indelible mark on the Kiwi-Indian community. Sandeep Singh reports.

Sandeep Singh

The name of Dr Gaurav Sharma – the now expelled former Labour Party MP - is going to leave an inexpungible impression on the wider Kiwi-Indian community, regardless of how his political saga further unfolds.  

Dr Sharma will go down in history for having two remarkably contrasting firsts attached to his name – the first ever electorate Kiwi-Indian MP and the first-ever Kiwi-Indian MP expelled from caucus.

The Kiwi-Indian community was left stunned in October 2020, following  Sharma’s election as the first-ever electorate Kiwi-Indian MP in Parliament - an outcome for which many within the community had secretly longed for.

The community will be equally bewildered, if not dismayed, by Sharma’s unprecedented political kamikaze attack on his own party and the Prime Minister.

It will be a small minority in the community, particularly those with political aspirations, who will be dismayed most, as they will construe Sharma’s actions  as an act of sabotage on their future chances of climbing the nation’s political ladder based on the perception  from mainstream political parties that they might be unsuitable for the job of MP.  

In politics, the selection of candidates is always a highly competitive and contested process, and now, it can be assumed that there could be an added layer of scrutiny based on apprehensions around the “trustworthiness” and “political maturity” of ethnic candidates – something which will always remain undefined - and hence problematic.

To many in the mainstream, this may be an unfounded fear or a completely preposterous suggestion; however, within ethnic migrant minority communities, this is just a fact of life that many encounter on a daily basis at their respective workplaces in New Zealand.

They have to often carry the dual burden of not only their own actions and inactions, aspirations, and the ability to back those aspirations - but also the perceived reputation of the entire co-ethnic community they represent. 

NZ Parliament 

There is an underlying theme traversing most ethnic migrant minority communities - becoming a model citizenry by showcasing the best of their respective cultural and social backgrounds in their new country of residence.

At least this can be said with a great degree of confidence for the Kiwi-Indian community, where this message of being “an ambassador of their culture” is casually repeated in almost every community network, basically to encourage everyone to conduct themselves in some sort of model behaviour and hence create an overall positive impression about the Kiwi-Indian community.

This is not necessarily a deliberate and organised action but a casual impromptu underlying mode of thinking in most of the Indian-origin migrant community. The community takes immense pride in the fact that Indian-origin people have emigrated to different regions of the world and have everywhere been welcomed and accepted as the most hard-working, law-abiding, socially and culturally conforming communities.

This is why there is an unspoken collective urge within the Kiwi-Indian community to abhor every socially deviant behaviour.

And for many in the Kiwi-Indian community, Gaurav Sharma’s political attack on the Labour Party arguably constitutes deviant behaviour – not expected from fellow ethnic MPs.

Many in the community will find themselves being defensive about the (in)actions of Dr Gaurav Sharma, while they have remained ignorant or unmindful of the similar political (mis)adventurism of Jamie Lee Ross - another NZ MP who decided to turn his coat against his old colleagues.

What makes it worse is that while Jamie Lee Ross’s endeavours could easily be forgotten and forgiven by mainstream media commentators as an aberration, there seems to be an overzealous temptation amongst some mainstream media commentators to see a bigger malaise in Sharma’s case.

 If community chatter is to be believed, then some mainstream media commentators may already be formulating an opinion that suggests Sharma’s behavior has been more a “foreign cultural import” than homegrown.

If that commentary eventually enters public discourse is yet to be seen, but the fact that phone calls are being made to those considered as knowledgeable about the community’s pulse to explore that suggestion clearly shows the intent of a view to disown Sharma’s political salvos, even if distasteful, as foreign or alien.

This is a stark reminder of the challenges that many within ethnic migrant minority communities often face in this country – a question mark over whether they belong here or not.

To her credit, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had been absolutely meticulous in not only neutralising the challenge presented by Sharma’s calculated political innuendos, but also in controlling any potential adverse impact that it may have on the broader Kiwi-Indian community.

The Labour Party’s functionaries, including caucus members and their community outreach teams, were quickly put into action immediately after the first decision of Sharma’s suspension to gauge the community’s pulse and relay the rationale behind the decision.

Sharma’s subsequent actions precipitated an early end to what was briefly thought to going to be a protracted drama that may have stretched till the end of the year.

The Prime Minister has already announced that the matter is concluded from the Labour Party’s perspective. However, it is not certain yet if that may be the case from Sharma’s perspective.  

Media and commentators are still analysing what they know and have learned  about Sharma’s political maturity (or naivety) over the past few weeks.

If Sharma’s public admissions are to be believed, then indeed, he is receiving some public sympathy and support across all spectrums of NZ society, including the Kiwi-Indian community and in his electorate – Hamilton West.

It still remains to be seen if Sharma is able to do anything meaningful with this support and present a compelling case, especially when the media’s immediate interest in him is waning.  

Regardless of how Sharma’s story further unfolds, it will leave an indelible mark on the Kiwi-Indian community for his fall from the first electorate Kiwi-Indian MP to the first expelled Kiwi-Indian MP.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 

-Asia Media Centre