New Delhi: Conservative MP Rishi Sunak became the first Indian-origin politician to be appointed UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. His appointment, though, follows similar appointments of Indian-origin politicians — from Fiji, Malaysia to United States and Canada — to top-ministerial positions across the world.
The North American country is home to a sizeable community of Indian-origin people, and has had several ministers who trace back their ancestry to India.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet currently includes four of them – Anita Anand, Navdeep Bains, Bardish Chagger and Harjit Sajjan.
Sajjan is a part of the big four ministries, and is the Canadian Minister of National Defence. He is a former detective from Vancouver and was a Lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian military.
Bains represents the South Asian-dominated Mississauga-Malton district in the province of Ontario, and is now the country’s Minister of Science, Innovation, and Industry.
Chagger, who was the Liberal Party house leader in the previous parliament, is now Trudeau’s Minister for Diversity & Inclusion, and Youth.
Anand is the first Hindu woman to be inducted in a Canadian cabinet, and is now responsible for public services and procurement. She was formerly a law professor at the University of Toronto and represents Oakville from Ontario province.
In the past, Liberal Party provincial politician from Vancouver, Ujjal Dosanj, had served as the 33rd Premier of British Columbia (BC). During his career in BC politics, Dosanj had held various portfolios including health, multiculturalism and human rights, government services, and sports.
In 1997, Harbance Singh Dhaliwal, who was born in Punjab, became the first Indian Canadian to serve on the Canadian federal cabinet as Minister of revenue. Over the subsequent years, he also held the ministry of fisheries & oceans, and natural resources.
The island country in the Southern Pacific Ocean, Fiji has not only had many India-origin ministers, but also a prime minister. This is primarily because around 38 per cent of Fiji’s population is of Indian descent.
Mahindra Chaudhary, leader of the country’s Labour party, became the first Indo-Fijian to be elected prime minister in 1999. A year later, Chaudhary and his entire cabinet were ousted in a military-backed coup.
Seven years later, in the 2006 general elections, Chaudhary was appointed Minister of Finance.
Before Chaudhary rose to prominence, Vijay Raghubar Singh and Ahmed Ali were two prominent Indo-Fijian politicians who held several ministerial portfolios in the 1960s-90s. Singh held multiple portfolios, but is remembered for helping restructure the country’s sugar industry.
Meanwhile, Ali held several portfolios during the 1980s, including foreign affairs and trade and information & communications. He went on to become the vice-president of the senate and served as the Minister for information and media relations after democracy was restored in 2001. During the same period, George Shiu Raj served as the Minister of Multi-ethnic Affairs.
Much like Fiji, the northern Latin American republic of Guyana was also a British colony and about 40 per cent of its population is of Indian descent. As a consequence, Guyana has had four Indian-origin politicians who became prime minister or president.
Cheddi Berret Jagan, who is considered the father of the modern Guyanese nation, became the first elected chief minister (akin to the post of the prime minister) in 1953. Back then, he was the first Hindu to serve as the head of a state outside of South Asia. Jagan went on to serve as the fourth president of Guyana, from 1992 to 1997.
Shridath Surendranath Ramphal, who studied at Georgetown University and King’s College London, was Guyana’s foreign minister from 1972 to 75. After completing his ministerial tenure, Ramphal served as the second secretary general of the Commonwealth Nations from 1975 to 1990.
Similar to Jagan, Bharrat Jagdeo, who was born to Indo-Guyanese Hindu parents, went on to serve as both prime minister (albeit interim) and president. When Jagdeo became president in 1999, he was just 35, and was among the youngest heads of states in the world. He served from more than decade.
Incumbent Guyanese Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is of Tamil Indian descent. He was elected to the parliament in 1992, and served in several ministerial roles, before becoming the prime minister in 2015.
Until a few weeks ago, the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) was Leo Varadkar. Varadkar is half-Indian as his father was born in Mumbai but moved to the UK in the 1960s. Before being appointed prime minister in 2017, Varadkar had held several cabinet portfolios such as defence, health, and social protection. In December last year, during a visit to India, Varadkar went to his native village in Maharashtra.
Owing to the widespread Indian influence across Southeast Asia in the early and medieval times, Malaysia has a sizeable Indian population and features a substantial number of Indian-origin political figures.
V.T. Sambanthan, a towering political figure, is considered one of the three founding fathers of Malaysia. Sambanthan is credited for consolidating the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and turning it into a mass-based political party. He also served as the acting prime minister in 1973.
V. Manickavasagam Pillai was the sixth president of the MIC and served as the Minister of Communication in the cabinet.
Sivarasa Rasiah, is a major contemporary political figure in Malaysia. He is former vice-president of the People’s Justice Party, and is currently the Deputy Minister for Rural Development.
M. Kayveas, a Tamil-origin politician, is another major figure in Malaysian politics. While Kayveas is currently the president of the People’s Progressive Party, in the past he has served as deputy minister in the prime minister’s department.
Among other politicians, G. Palanivel, was the 8th president of the MIC, and served as a minister in the prime minister’s department. P. Kamalanathan was formerly the Deputy Minister of Education and Higher Learning.
The African island nation Mauritius has a large Indian-origin population, and nearly 52 per cent of its citizens practice Hinduism. This has meant that the country’s politics has historically been dominated by Indo-Mauritian politicians.
There have been seven Indian-origin presidents or prime ministers in post-independence Mauritius.
The current Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth hails from a high class Hindu-Yadav family. Before becoming PM in 2017, he held several major portfolios such as finance and vice prime ministership.
Anerood Jugnauth, the father of incumbent PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, also served as both prime minister and president.
Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, is considered one of the three founding father of Mauritius and was the country’s first prime minister. He was in office from 1968 to 82. His son, Navin Ramgoolam, was the third prime minister of the country, and served from 2005-14.
Veerasamy Ringaadoo, Cassem Uteem, and Kailash Purryag, are all Indian-origin former presidents of Mauritius.
In New Zealand there have been a few significant politicians of Indian descent. Among them, the most prominent has been Anand Satyanand — former judge and ombudsman — who served as the 19th Governor General of New Zealand. He was New Zealand’s first governor general of Asian descent.
Portugal, owing to its sub-continental colonies, has a substantial India connection. It’s incumbent Prime Minister Antonio Costa, is the son of writer Orlando da Costa, who hailed from a Goan Portuguese family.
Before assuming office in 2015, Antonio was the secretary general of the Socialist party of Portugal and the leader of opposition 2014-15. He previously served as the mayor of Lisbon from 2007-15, and was the Socialist party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2015 elections.
Similar to Malaysia, Singapore also houses a large population of Indian-origin citizens. But even more than Malaysia, Singapore’s politics has been dominated by politicians hailing from Indian descent.
C.V. Devan Nair, a Kerala-origin Singaporean politician, was the third president of Singapore. He served from 1981 to 1985. Nair was elected to the parliament in 1979 and is considered the father of modern trade union movements in Singapore.
S.R. Nathan was the sixth president of Singapore, and served from 1999 to 2011. Until now, he has been the longest serving president in the country’s history.
S. Rajaratnam has been one of the defining politicians in Singapore’s history. He was the deputy prime minister from 1980 to 85 and was a part of the country’s cabinet from 1959 to 88. He was one of the key leaders of the “independent Singapore” movement, and played a role in the country achieving its independence in 1965.
Suppiah Dhanabalan, was a prominent politician during the 1980s, and held several important portfolios under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore. Dhanabalan comes from a Tamil descent.
S. Jayakumar, is another former Singaporean politician of Tamil descent, and was the deputy prime minister of the country from 2004 to 2009.
During his career he held many other prominent portfolios. These include the coordinator of national security, foreign affairs, home affairs, and law.
Other important Sinagaporean politicians of Indian descent, who held significant portfolios include K. Shanmugan, S. Iswaran, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Indrane Rajah.
In recent times, the influence of Indian-origin Gupta Brothers has been a matter of much attention. Other Indian origin politicians to hold significant portfolios in the government include Enver Surty, Ebrahim Patel, and Radhakrishna Padayachi.
Trinidad and Tobago
The country has had three Indian-origin leaders that went on serve as either the president or the prime minister of the country.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was born to parents of Indian descent, served as the sixth prime minister of the country from 2010 to 2015. Her career features the remarkable achievement of being the country’s first woman prime minister, attorney general, and leader of opposition.
Before Bissessar, another politician of Indian descent, Basdeo Panday served as the prime minister from 1995 to 2001. And Noor Hassanali, a retired high court judge, went on to become the first Indian-origin president of Trinidad and Tobago. He was the second president of the country and was in office from 1987 to 1997.
Linda Baboolal, Surujrattan Rambachan, Simbhoonath Capildeo (uncle to author V.S. Naipaul), Winston Chandarbhan Dookeran, and Ralph Maraj are the other Indian-origin politicians to have held portfolios.
The appointment of Rishi Sunak as the country’s chancellor of exchequer is the just most recent example of an Indian-origin politician being allotted a major ministerial position. Given India’s colonial links with the UK for two centuries, Indians have been among the elected representatives of the British Parliament from as early as 1892 when Dadabhai Naoroji became MP.
Conservative party Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet features two other ministers of Indian descent, Priti Patel and Alok Sharma.
Patel is an MP from Witham and is currently the home secretary. She has previously held portfolios such as international development, employment, and the exchequer secretary to the treasury.
Sharma, who was formerly the Secretary of State for International Development, has now been promoted to the position of Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
In the Labour Party, Goan-origin Keith Vaz has been the longest serving MP of Asian descent in the British Parliament. He represented Leicester East from 1987 to 2019, and was the country’s minister of state for European Affairs from 1999 to 2001.
Often the Indian community is dubbed as the most successful ethnic grouping in the US, and its disproportionate political influence is a matter of much discussion. But regardless of such political influence, there have only been a handful of Indian Americans who have held ministerial portfolios in the US – either at the state or federal level.
Most prominent among them have been Piyush Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley.
Jindal, who is of Punjabi-origin, served as the governor of Louisiana from 2008 to 2016. He was also the first Indian American to be elected to the position of a governor in the US.
Haley, a popular face in President Donald Trump’s team, was the US ambassador to the United Nations, but resigned from her position on 31 December 2018. She was formerly the governor of South Carolina, and was the first Sikh-American to serve as a governor in the US.