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December 17, 2020 Thursday 10:14:37 AM IST

The Day, India Rules the World

Leadership Instincts

As the counting of votes was going on to decide the winner of the US Presidential contest a news report from Tamil Nadu spoke of poojas being conducted in temples there beseeching the Lord to ensure the victory of Kamala Harris, who the natives of this state consider as one of their brethren on account of her mother hailing from there. The blessings of Almighty must have stood the Biden- Harris duo in good stead as they overcame stiff challenge and absurd posturing from the incumbent team to win the battle for the White House.

No such prayers were offered in the town of Parur in Ernakulam district of Kerala when, Priyanca Radhakrishnan was sworn in as Minister in the federal Cabinet of Jacinda Arden in New Zealand. Radhakrishnan, whose father was born in Parur had come up through the ranks of New Zealand Labour Party and won the elections to the Parliament held in October 2020.

The success of these two women politicians outside their country of origin has brought focus on success achieved by expatriate Indians in the political arena in the nations they chose as their home. A quick glance through this long and formidable list indicates that persons of Indian origins have scored considerable success in navigating through the difficult, and often treacherous, political waters, overcoming the obvious difficulties in facing electorate in these lands. The substantial Indian presence in Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, where they had settled during the years of British colonial rule as indentured plantation labour, would have helped them climb up the political ladder in these countries. But, it is in the electoral wins that they have achieved in the western world that has made the rest of the globe sit up and take notice of this new phenomenon on the global political landscape.

Considerable Success

Cheddi Jagan created history when his People’s Progressive Party won the elections in British Guyana in 1953. Jagan professed Communist ideals which prompted Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister of Britain, to seek his removal. The British intervention led to his removal from office after only 133 days. However, he returned to power again in 1961 and ruled as Chief Minster for 3 years. In 1992 his party won the elections again and he took over as President and served in this position till his death in 1997.

Other Indian origin persons who served as Heads of Governments of their nations in the past include Anerood Jugnuath, Seewesagur Ramgoolam and  Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius, Bharat Jagdeo of Guyana, Kamala Persad- Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago,  Alfredo Nobra da Costa of Portugal, Leo Varadkar of Republic of Ireland, Mahendra Chaudhry of Fiji and Tun Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia. Varadkar, whose father was from Mumbai, occupied the post of Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from June 2017 to June 2020 and is presently serving as Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). Mahathir holds the unique record for coming back as Prime Minister at the grand old age of 93 when he led the coalition that defeated the ruling front in 2018. He had earlier retired in 2003 at the end of a 22 year tenure as Premier.  Presently, Antonio Costa of Portugal is the only Prime Minister who can trace his origins to India, as his father Orlando da Costa was born in Goa, then a Portuguese colony.

President of Singapore
The father of Devan Nair, the first President of Singapore, hailed from Thalassery in Kerala, while SR Nathan, the sixth Head of State of this nation, was of Tamil descent. The present President of Singapore, Halima Yacob, is also of Indian origin as her father had his roots in India. Indian politicians are a prominent feature of the political landscape of Singapore and, at any given time, there would be few of them holding important portfolios in the Cabinet. Canada is another country where Indian origin persons have made a big impact of the political arena. There are four Ministers with Indian roots - Anita Anand, Navdeep Bains, Bardish Chagger and Harjit Sajjan- in the Cabinet headed by Justin Traudeau.

The first Indian to enter the British Parliament was Dadabhai Naoroji in 1892 and he worked ceaselessly trying to convince the lawmakers there about the economic peril brought on Indians by the colonial rule. In the Boris Johnson Cabinet the important portfolios of Home and Finance are held by persons with Indian roots. Rishi Sunak, a 40 year old born to parents hailing from Punjab, is presently the Chancellor of Exchequer while Priti Patel, who was inspired by Margaret Thatcher to pursue a career in politics, is the Home Secretary. Alok Sharma, who is the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy completes the trio of Indian origin Ministers in Johnson’s team.

Bobby Jindal to Kamala

The Indian community in United States of America might be numerically small but has punched way above its weight when it comes to prominence in business and politics. Bobby Jindal became the first Indian- American to hold the office of Governor of a state, when he was elected to this post in Louisiana in 2008. He also ran for Presidential primaries seeking Republican Party ticket in 2016. Nikki Haley, a accomplished business person and author, followed him soon after when she was elected as Governor of South Carolina in 2010. Haley was appointed by Trump administration as Ambassador to United Nations in January 2017 and held that position till she stepped down in December 2018. Now, with the election of Kamala Harris, the influence of Indian expatriates in USA can be said to extend to the corridors of power within White House as well.

Adaptive Ability

Life of a politician is extremely demanding in that he is required to interact with the people closely and win their confidence and support. The success of so many politicians of Indian origin in nations across the globe speaks volumes about their ability to adapt to the conditions in these countries and win the trust of the populace there.  The leaders mentioned earlier would have fought against many odds and faced many questions, including those directed against the colour of their skin and social practices, to reach the top. Their achievements are a tribute to their political acumen, sharp intellect and, most importantly, their devotion to public service.

A word of praise is also due to the people of these countries who accepted the Indian origin politicians as one of their own and placed their faith on them. The success attained by them owes in no small measure to the positive and non discriminatory approach of these countries and the people there. At this juncture, it would be interesting to spare a thought as to whether Indian society would be equally forward looking and open minded if they are given the opportunity to consider electing people having roots in other countries or even other states as their representatives. It might too early to consider such a prospect but it would be prudent to remember that we would also be required to face such situations sooner than later. And unless we are ready to accept persons hailing from different countries/ states as one of our own, we would not be worthy inheritors of the civilisation that coined the phrase “vasudeiva kudumbakam”.

Dr. K N Raghavan

The writer is Chairman and Executive Director Of Rubber Board. 
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18/12/2020 07:57:53 IST
Denny Anto: Ambitious title. Informative article. Hopeful conclusions.
17/12/2020 22:57:49 IST
narayanan chaendaekattu: very intersting and thought provoking...yes, it is not too far before we get the same situation here also. many of the facts on other Indian origin leaders are new and surprising. congrats for such a beautiful line of thought..
17/12/2020 13:08:00 IST
John Thomas M: Very interesting and enlightening. Heard about the peoplementioned in the article from my childhood, as liked history. I will be gladi if you write a reverse article, Since, recently died UA Khader was born in Burma, later settled down in Kerala, Dilip Kumar, Advani... many born in Pakistan but settled in India, Deepika Padukone born at Copenhagen...