The Indian Diaspora, over the past few centuries, has effortlessly managed to make an indelible mark on human society worldwide, as good citizens, society and opinion leaders, statesmen, and even as world leaders heading countries they mifrated to. To illustrate, it seems not too long ago when Chedi Jagan rose to became the president of the caribbean island nation of Guyana back in the early 1960s. And then there are quite a few more we can talk about since then – of Indian immigrants across the world who became Presidents and Prime Ministers of myriad nations – ranging from Mauritius to Trinidad & Tobago and from Fiji to Surinam. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius, Basdeo Panday of Trinidad, Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, Anerood Jugnauth of Mauritius, Mahendra Chaudhry of the Fiji Islands, Ramsewak Shankar and Lachmipersad Frederick Ramdat of Surinam, to mention but a few. In this context, are we going to see an Indian immigrant becoming the President of US in future? Or is it likely that a Sikh will lead Canada as its PM? Not at all imponderable. One of our senior contributors muses on the topic.
Is it time for a person of Indian origin to stand for becoming the US President or fight elections to become the PM of Canada? Well, let’s not be surprised, the next US President to come might just have some Indian connections up his sleeve. If Donald Trump, with his German background and Barack Obama with his Kenyan pedigree can occupy the White House, why not a person with Indian roots?
The recent presidential election in the US, while it upset many an equatgion, was clear on one count very unambiguously. It has clearly proved that Indian-Americans are now quite ready to take a big leap into politics, even as they were keenly watching and taking part in the intense and acrimonious electioneering. Now over 3 million Indians want their pound of flesh in the US political scenario. That they have arrived in politics is also proved by the unprecedented Indian wave hit that the US general elections this time round. And we saw a record number of five Indian-Americans were elected to the US Congress.
Among them, Kamala Harris, 51, a two-term attorney general from California, is already neing seen as a prospective presidential candidate. Her mother was born in Chennai and her father is from Jamaica. Clearly, she would get the support of Indians as well as the humungous Afro-American community as well if she were to be a presidential candidate in the upcoming 2020 election.
Even though the Indian-American community makes-up but merely 1% of the total US population, it is making big statements in several fields. The achievements of Indian-Americans do not merely reflect individual effort and cultural values such as respect for education. India-born CEOs like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Adobe Systems’ Shantanu Narayen, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and Google’s Sundar Pichai are household names. When President Barack Obama awards author Jhumpa Lahiri a National Humanities Medal, or Mindy Kaling is nominated for an Emmy award, the Indian American community feels proud of it. And, arguably others too feel envious of the stunning achievements of Indian community. Surely, Indians have thrived in America in a big way. Despite their small percentage, they have founded more than one in eight Silicon Valley start-ups. The community boasts two governors: Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley.
The current median income for Indian-American families is about US$ 88,000, nearly twice the national average. Seventy percent of Indian-Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the national average of less than 30%.
And now let’s scan through the pages of recent history of Indian immigrants. After Chedi Jagan, an Indian-origin politician, became the President of Guyana in 1961, many other preeminent Indian-origin statesmen and politicians globally have climbed up the pyramid to lead their adopted nations. Mauritius, Trinidad-Tobago, Fiji, Guyana and Surinam might be nations with large Indian-origin populations – in places more than 50%, so yes, it makes sense, but Singapore? The island nation has 0ver 75% population with Chinese and Malay roots. That S R Nathan, an Indian-origin politician succeeds in becoming the President of Singapore is a remarkable feat indeed.
Clearly by now it is obvious that Indians are not likely to remain silent spectators whereever they settle. Now take the example of Canada. It has a mind-boggling 19 Mps of Indian-Canadian origin, out of whom four are full cabinet ministers. In a parliamentary poll held last year, five turbaned Sikh MPs have made a historic entry into Canadian parliament. Among the turbaned Sikh MPs are Navdeep Singh Bains and Raj Grewal from Ontario. Bains has served as MP in the past. Likewise, two turbaned Sikh MPs Harjit Singh Sajjan and Randeep Singh Sarai have been elected from British Columbia. And now Sajjan is the Defence Minister of Canada. Canada in a way is a replica of US, as it is also a liberal and multi-cultural society that has a history of giving space to all. So it is just possible that we see an Indian or may be a Sikh Prime Minister in Canada sooner rather than later.
And by the way, in the last year’s UK parliamentary poll, 10 Indian-origin politicans entered parliament. Among them were Keith Vaz, Priti Patel, Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy's son-in-law Rishi Sunak, Virendra Sharma (called ‘Panditji’ by his supporters), Valerie Vaz, Seema Malhotra, Alok Sharma and Shailesh Vara. And if you look into their backgrounds a mite closely, you would soon realise that Indian immigrants, irrespective of their caste and native state, are taking a plunge into the political arena.
If you look at it this way, the Indian Diaspora is really in the thick of the political scenes, in almost two dozen countries – with 182 of them in parliament, spanning from the Canada, the US and the UK to Australia, New Zealand, Kenya and Zambia.
It is believed that outside of India, the largest numbers of Indians are in Malaysia, where their numbers are more than 3.5 million. They are mostly from Tamil Nadu. However, as of today, they seem to be a divided house, supporting different parties. And they also have several parties, all of them claiming to be their only true voices. On the surface of it, it will go without saying that they ought to unite soon for claiming the rights and welfare of the Indian community. Apart from the Indian Progressive Front (IPF), other parties that claim to represent Indians is the Malaysian Indian United Party (MIUP) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In Malaysia, the Indian community constitutes 7.5% of the country’s population, but have a whole bunch of political parties claiming to represent them.
And South Africa is yet another country where our Indian diaspora have made a huge statement in politics. The likes of Yusuf Dadoo, Pregs Govender, Ronnie Govender, Ahmed Kathrada, Monty Naicker, Amma Naidoo, Indira Naidoo, Naransamy Roy Naidoo, Shanti Naidoo, Thambi Naidoo, Xavier Naidoo and Radhakrishna Padayachi are some of the better-known political netas of Indian-origin in South Africa. Padayachi was also a Deputy Minister for Communication until a couple of years ago.
While the Chinese Diaspora is equally significant and swelling thick and fast across the world, it does not take much interest in politics. And while Chinese immigrants tend not to merge with locals even after decades of their arrival in an alien land, this is not not true for the Indian Diaspora. For Indians take to politics like fish take to water. And that is now very much evident across the world, and moreso in the US. Given their deep interest of our Diaspora in politics, i gainsay we cannot really rule out the possibility of an Indian immigrant becoming a future president of the United States.