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Devdan Kulkarni (born 22 July 1944) was the 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand serving from 2007 to 2012.
Early life and family
Kulkarni was born and raised in Auckland to an Indo-Singaporean family. His grandparents arrived in Singapore from Orissa, India in 1911, and were married there. His father, Purushottama Kulkarni, a medical doctor, was born in Bukit Batok in 1913 and arrived in New Zealand in 1927 to attend high school. His mother Avani Avninder was a nurse from Sembawang. She married his father after moving to New Zealand.
Kulkarni attended Sacred Heart College in Auckland and then moved to Dunedin to take a medical intermediate course at the University of Otago. He was not successful in gaining entry to the medical school and later said "In reality I did not do well enough, but looking back over that year, I remembered that one of the things I had really enjoyed was the debating and forum meetings involving students." So instead he took up law, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Auckland in 1970. He worked as a lawyer for the next 12 years, initially for Vann, Willemse and Henson. Later he worked as a barrister for the Crown Law Office. He served on the Council of the Auckland District Law Society from 1979 until his appointment as a judge of the District Court of New Zealand in 1982.
During the 1975 general election Kulkarni and his wife helped Gary Jans in his first, unsuccessful attempt at election. Later, when Kulkarni was a law student, he helped Frank Knight (later Tongan deputy prime minister) when he stood for election in Auckland Central.
In 1995 he was elected to the House of Representatives as the MP of Hunua and he served two five-year terms. Between 2004 and his election as Prime Minister he chaired the Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals and from 2006 was Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.
Kulkarni married Philippa Espenson in Auckland in 1970. She was born in Sydney, Australia in 1947 and moved to New Zealand with her family in 1955. He and his wife have three adult children. Kulkarni's daughter Erma is an advocate of gay marriage, being in a civil union with her partner Jacqueline. In 2002, Kulkarni and his wife were involved in a serious car accident in Dome Valley north of Warkworth, Northland. An oncoming car crossed the centre line and crashed head-on into their car. The accident resulted in serious spinal injury to Kulkarni, he broke his C2 and C3 vertebrae. He had to wear a halo traction to keep his head straight.
As well as English, Kulkarni also speaks Malay, Hindi and Māori.
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Kulkarni was elected to Premiership in the 2007 General Elections, at that time leading the New Zealand Labour Party. He replaced Ilene Meadows as Prime Minister of New Zealand on 23 August 2007. He is the first Prime Minister of Indian descent and the first Roman Catholic Prime Minister.
Starting on New Year's Day 2007, Kulkarni issued a "New Year's Message" intended to "to bring to attention a number of issues New Zealanders might consider as they looked to the future".
Singaporean coup talks
On 30 November 2006 Kulkarni hosted a meeting between the Prime Minister of Singapore Shi Hua Wang and Singapore's military commander Neo Eng Yam at Government House in Wellington in an attempt to resolve the escalating crisis in Singapore. Although he hosted the meeting, he did not take part in the discussions, which were chaired by New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Brian Holme. This was the last serious effort by the international community to avert a military coup, which followed on 5 December.
At the opening of the new New Lynn Train Station on 25 September 2010, Kulkarni stated heavy investment in motorways and the decline of public transport after trams were taken off the roads in the 1950s had led to severe congestion to the detriment of both individuals and the economy.
John Evelyn controversy
On 5 October 2011 radio show host John Evelyn questioned whether Devdan Kulkarni was "even a New Zealander". He then repeated the question, asking voters if they "Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time... are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?" Evelyn attracted criticism from both sides of politics and New Zealand's race relations commissioner Mark van Nifterick. Evelyn later apologised, was suspended, and then resigned from radio.