The diaspora in politics: the world offers a lesson for India

kamala harris 1

India is excited about an Indian origin Kamala Haris getting elected as the Vice President of USA. Kerala was particularly excited the other day when Priyanca Radhakrishnan, a first generation migrant from Kerala was appointed as a minister in the new government of  Jacinda Arden of New Zealand. Neither in the case of Kamala nor Priyanca almost no one in their respective  countries questioned their ‘foreignness’. This is in sharp contrast to India where a key political asset of a political party that has now come to power is the foreign origin of a leader of their opposite camp.

Has an Indian become prime minister in a foreign country, was a rhetorical refrain of the now-moderate LK Advani in the 1999 parliament election campaign meetings, to attack Sonia Gandhi. It was as if he was ignorant of the political life of the Indian diaspora; the Congress too seemed to be uninformed. The Congress party did not give him an informed response but was using in their campaigns an article I wrote in a newspaper about the political positions people of Indian origin holding in their adopted countries.

The world has been open and tolerant to Indian immigrants entering politics and holding key political positions, both in developing countries and developed countries, and in nearly all regions of the world. This is when we have no single political leader of foreign origin in India other than Sonia Gandhi and she is attacked more on account of her ethnic origin than for her alleged wrongs. It is not that we have a shortage of naturalised Indians of foreign origin and their descendants. I am happy to see Priyanca in sari and wearing bindi which her non-Indian voters did not find acceptable, while Sonia Gandhi has to entirely distance herself from her Italian cultural roots.

While the countries of the world are open and welcoming to Indians landing there, whether as indentured labourers of yore or modern day economic immigrants, the ideas of exclusion and ostracization inherent in our culture expresses itself when it comes to foreigners holding public offices in our country. The millennia old theologically ordained caste system that ostracises a large body of Indians cannot be readily welcoming to people of foreign origin even as we benefit from the liberal minds of foreign societies. The elevation of Indian origin persons to political positions in foreign lands is surprisingly large and is beyond the caste and religious barriers often found in India.

Singapore elected a Keralite as its president long before a Keralite was elected as the president of India.  No one in Singapore opposed Devan Nair on the basis of his descent or his religion in a country where the Indian fecundity was at play, like anywhere else. (The only response to the Indian fecundity has been Lee Kuan arranging ‘match-making’ luxury voyages to the Chinese origin young people!). And years later one more president of Indian descent, S R Nathan, was elected. Malaysia always has 4-5 ministers of Indian descent in the cabinet, reflecting country’s splendid diversity. Fiji too has several ministers of Indian descent.

Mauritius, a fairly prosperous country off the coast of Africa, had several presidents and prime ministers of Indian origin. The current prime minister is Pravind Jugnauth of Indian descent. The last president was the Indian origin Aminah Gurrim-Fakim who succeeded the Indian origin Kailash Purryag. No one questioned them on their ethnic identity nor does anyone in the country makes the Hindu population growth, which is close to 50 per cent, an issue.

Salim Ahmed Salim, whose mother was of Indian origin, was the prime minister of Tanzania, and later headed the Organisation of African Unity. South Africa always had 3-4 ministers of Indian origin since its liberation into democracy. The Indian community had also played an important role in the freedom movement of the country. UK has three cabinet ministers of Indian origin while the prime minister of Portugal Antonio Costa whose father is Indian. No one in Portugal made an issue the foreign descent of this socialist leader, nor did anyone in Ireland raise questions about the ethnic origin of   Leo Varadkar, their young prime minister, whose father was from India. Imagine how these ethnic questions would have been made an issue in India if leading politicians had such foreign blood relation.

Canada has four ministers of Indian origin and there are 22 MPs too. Justin Trudeau had commented that he had more Sikhs in his ministry than Modi had, such a comment by an Indian PM about a hypothetical population group of foreign descent could trigger a harangue in the country and the next election would be fought on this issue. President Irfaan Ali of Guyana is half Indian, and so was the former president Jagan Cheddi. Long time Secretary General of Commonwealth Sridath Ramphal was of Indian origin from Guyana. Kamala Prasad Bissessar of Indian descent had been a prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago while Noor Mohamad Hassanali of Indian origin had been a president.

This is a wonderful story of success of the Indian diaspora, achieved through hard work and dedication. And it also happens so because the world is by and large open and tolerant unlike what is injected into the Indian psyche by some political forces. Interestingly, the authors of these achievements are representative of the composite India, the rainbow of different languages, ethnic groups and religions, and not like the domination of a few privileged social groups. The diaspora, the beneficiaries of host  societies that value diversity and tolerance, should vigorously seek to contribute to the efforts to transform India too into such a society that truly value diversity and tolerance, especially in these trying times for the country. Lest their own future abroad is at stake as the discrimination and atrocities in India are gaining global attention.

Dr S Faizi is an ecologist specialising in international environmental policy and had been a UN multilateral negotiator.



Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News