Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak became the first of the Conservative Party MPs in the race for the post of Prime Minister of Britain.
Indian-origin Rishi Sunak ahead in the race for British PMWill India always benefit from the increased stature of Indian descent in any country? More than 200 Indians hold top positions in governments of 25 countries.
In Britain, the names of two people of Indian origin are leading in the race for the post of Prime Minister, including Rishi Sunak. In such a situation, there is a curiosity in the mind of Indians living in India and around the world. If a person of Indian origin becomes the Prime Minister of Britain or if the Indian ancestry reaches the top political post anywhere in the world, then how much can he be beneficial for India? Sanjay Baru, who was the media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has written an article on the NRIs in The Times of India. He has discussed three possible roles of people of Indian origin living abroad. He writes that two decades ago the Vajpayee government accepted the report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora Community and it was decided to celebrate ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Divas’ every year. LM Singhvi was the chairman of this committee. The objective behind this was to thank their constructive economic, political and societal and philanthropic activities as well as to recognize their contribution.
Happiness as well as Tension
The economic and philanthropic roles of the diaspora have been welcomed by successive governments. It is this ‘political’ role that generates both excitement and displeasure and is becoming a matter of concern not only at home, but also in the host countries. Baru says it’s no surprise that Indian officials at the moment are hoping that someone like Boris will be elected British prime minister instead of a brown-skinned South Asian.
Baru writes that Rishi Sunak is of Indian origin and the son-in-law of a patriotic Indian, but someone like Liz Truss can lead the race. It’s easier to deal with a fish-n-chip from the UK through True-Blue Brit (the utterly loyal British) than a dosa lover. This is the lesson learned when dealing with the US and Canada.
These Indian origin people watch their audience.
When Prime Minister Modi discussed political figures from the overseas Indian community during his mega show abroad, it was expected that people living in his country were excited by the success and respect received by Indians living abroad. But the case would be, some will love you, some will not, on the politics of the diaspora. Anyway, let’s take a look at the case of Indian-origin politicians living abroad who have to please their domestic audience, not an Indian.
Example of Kamala Harris
As the US Vice President, Kamala Harris has to speak up for her voters at home, even if it angers Indians. Think of it this way that any political interference by Harris in India will always be interpreted in two ways, i.e., differently in the US and India. President Joe Biden has always been promoting American interests, while Indians expect Harris to be sensitive to Indians. A similar concern can be seen in New Delhi regarding the recent political developments in London.
Three Roles of Overseas Indians
Baru says there are three different types of political roles that the Indian diaspora could potentially play. First, Indians living abroad can promote India’s national interests. This has been seen in the US between 1993 and 2008, when the political activism of Indian Americans led to increased US parliamentary support for India’s national interests. Support for India on issues related to Kashmir and the nuclear program grew year after year with Indian-Americans funding pro-India lobbies. This eventually led to the full support of the US for the US-India civil nuclear energy agreement.
Baru says that another political role that NRIs can play is when in fact they are involved in the government of their host countries. For this reason, people of Indian origin in Mauritius played an important role in making this island country an important strategic partner of India.
The third type of role haunts Indian officials. That is when the Indian diaspora becomes anti-India by being excessive and sometimes obsessive. Take the case of Malaysia. India had good relations with Malaysia when a ‘real’ Malay person like Najib Abdul Razak was the prime minister. At the same time, Mahathir Mohammad of Indian origin has always been a complex person.
200 Indians dominate the governments of 25 countries
It is no small matter that more than 200 people of Indian origin hold the top positions in the political power of 25 countries of the world. Of these, only 10 heads of governments are of Indian origin. The name of Portugal’s PM Antonio Costa is also in this list. Many of these are India’s stress-free friends, but some require hard work from Indian diplomats.
Indian diaspora is divided
Baru says that it is a fact whether in the country or abroad, the Indian community is of various types. Hundreds of Indian American community organizations funded the 2019 Howdy Modi Houston event. The community is divided on the basis of regional, linguistic, religious and caste, and their politics proceed in various ways that affect US-India relations.
There has been an increasing focus on the role of the diaspora in shaping bilateral relations. Due to the activism of NRIs in developed countries, the concern of human rights violations in India increases. Any Indian politician who wants to attract the attention of people of Indian origin settled abroad must also address the concerns of those who are not enthusiastic about some politicians but give heart to the larger interests of their country of origin.
Baru says that among the politically active overseas Indian communities, the Canada-based group has put New Delhi under more stress. One day a person of Indian origin in Canada may also become the Prime Minister. The Indian-origin politician in America is just a short walk away from becoming the head of state. In countries like Ireland and Portugal, Indian-origin heads of state don’t worry New Delhi. The case of London is completely different.
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