National leader Simon Bridges has moved to mend fences with the Indian community after controversial race-based comments emerged this week.
Surrounded by the lights and colour of Auckland's Diwali Festival celebrations today, Bridges took the stage in front of hundreds gathered at the city's Aotea Square in saris and kurtas to thank the Indian community for its contribution to New Zealand.
"It's fantastic to be here today and I wish you all a very happy Diwali," he said.
Bridges was caught up in a series of explosive scandals this week after former National MP Jami-Lee Ross accused him of electoral fraud, a claim strongly denied by the National Party leader.
Members of the Indian and Chinese communities have also criticised Bridges for race-based comments captured during a recording released earlier this week between him and Ross.
Fronting the media after helping kick-off the Diwali festivities, Bridges said he hoped to put the issues that flared up around his race-based comments behind him.
He said the National Party wanted to build itself up as a party that included people from all communities.
Following his media stand-up, Bridges posed for photos with members of the public.
However, his public reception was dwarfed by the enthusiasm that greeted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
As the Prime Minister left the main stage, she was mobbed by people – many of whom were mothers and young daughter in saris – seeking selfies with her.
The race comments emerged this week when Ross released a secret recording he had made during a phone conversation between him and Bridges earlier this year.
During the conversation the pair discussed businessman Yikun Zhang and a $100,000 donation made to the party.
They then talked about potential candidates to join the National Party and the need to draw them from different ethnic communities.
"Two Chinese would be nice but then, you know, would it be one Chinese and one Filipino? Or, you know, what do we do?" Bridges said.
"Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians, I have to say", Ross replied.
When asked about the conversation, Bridges later said he stood by National's effort to have a mix of ethnicities on its list, but he said it had been discussed in a blunt manner.
Indian High Commissioner Sanjiv Kohli was among those to criticise the conversations, tweeting it was a "shocking attitude".
"Highly inconsistent with NZ values. Hopefully an aberration. India and Indians respect and admire this country and its people. Not everything is up for sale. Running a country is different from managing David Jones," he said.
Bridges told media today he had since spoken with Kohli to smooth over any misconceptions.
Gurisman Mintu - a resident from Ross' Botany electora te - was at the Diwali festival to watch his two young daughters perform on stage.
He said he had followed the recent scandals and was more annoyed with Ross than Bridges.
He believed Ross had political motives in mind when he recorded Bridges.
" Jami was actually trying to put words into his mouth - so it was kind of framed," he said.
Mintu also said he understood why politicians would discuss having quotas of MPs from different ethnic groups so their parties' viewpoints matched with the populations they represented.
"They have to discuss it, we've had population growth," he said.
With the Indian community recently celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff also unveiled a new New Zealand postage stamp carrying the face of India's "father of the nation".
Ardern used a Gandhi quote in her speech, saying: "In a gentle way you can shake the world."
New Zealand "as a diverse nation can be a shining light in the world," she said