Venkat Raman –
On a normal occasion, any statement from India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) would pass through the newsroom unnoticed, for, over the years, its press releases have become unexciting items subscribing to Chatham House Rules.
But a rather unusually long Press Release issued on September 25, 2015 not only indulged in self-adulation but also scoffed at some ‘new organisations,’ without naming them.
Even more surprising, the statement came not from the Chair but from Treasurer Bhav Dhillon, who is credited for the financial strength of INZBC and his powerful connections.
Applauding the Council for its democratic structure and inclusiveness, he called it a ‘robust democratic organisation which is consulted by the New Zealand and Indian governments.’
“As a word of caution, with the success of INZBC, many copycat, fly-by-night organisations are also sprouting up, which are non-democratic in nature and with the sole aim of self-promotion of a few individuals. The business community and the governments should be aware of such personal agendas and not promote them as this can potentially have a disastrous effect on the NZ-India trade,” he said.
We wrote to Mr Dhillon and asked him to name the organisations that came under his warning.
He replied, “My comment is not targeted at any particular organisation but is aimed to generate awareness and drum support for INZBC as the pre-eminent body. Therefore, please do not misconstrue/misrepresent my comments.”
NZIFA & ITA
There are only two organisations in existence that could ‘threaten’ INZBC. One is the New Zealand India Friendship Association (NAZIFA) set up by Ravi Thapar, former Indian High Commissioner who was recalled by his government on disciplinary issues, and the other is the India Trade Alliance (ITA) of which former National Party Leader Dr Don Brash and former Internal Affairs Minister Dr Richard Worth are Deputy Chairmen. Giri Gupta, Managing Editor and Partner of Indian Weekender (of which Mr Dhillon is also an equal Partner) is the Chairman (Indian Newslink, August 1, 2015). It was no surprise that the Press Statement appeared in its entirety in the publication’s September 25, 2015 issue, the day of its release,
NAZIFA is an unlikely contender because a number of officials of INZBC are its founder-members and office-bearers including Mr Dhillon. This, we were told, spells conflict of interest, breaching INZBC rules.
Dr Richard Worth
Dr Worth issued a statement to Indian Newslink in which he said, “I have read the comments of the local business council which include assertions of ‘copycat non-democratic fly by night’ organisations without identifying which those organisations might be. The council does not need to be fearful of the India Trade Alliance – we play on a different playing ground.
“Our focus is on substantially developing sound business gains between India and New Zealand for the benefit of our members through our networks in Auckland, Delhi and Mumbai.
Admission to the ITA is by invitation – we search for members, corporate or otherwise, who have connections and influence to alter significantly the business flows between the two countries. We have an interest not only in trade but also for example in leveraging advantage from the sporting interests which both countries share.
“I do not doubt that because of our connections with the State and Federal governments of India, the New Zealand Government will seek our support in the shared aspirations we have for a meaningful free trade agreement between the two countries.
“A former New Zealand Prime Minister spoke of India and New Zealand as being ‘the bookends of Asia.’ Our task is to fill the gap between those two bookends with a worthwhile and effective contribution.”
Sunil Kaushal, who resigned the post of INZBC Chair a few months ago, alleged that the Council suffered from internal politics and that it has failed to sustain the momentum generated by the ‘Business Summit’ held on March 13, 2015 (Indian Newslink, March 15, 2015).
“In my view, the INZBC has somewhat lost its way and it would hardly be surprising if alternative organisations were to try to fill that void. The fact that the government has dropped India as a target for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) just months after such high level engagement is indicative of the extent to which the moment that was created earlier this year has been lost,” he said.
We had written to INZBC Chair Robert Barker seeking his views on alleged breach of ‘democratic principles’ but did not hear from him at press time. We will therefore analyse these and other matters in our next (October 15) Issue.