The election of Kamala Harris as the first woman vice president of America has many other firsts. She’s the first woman of colour, first Indian-American and first daughter of immigrants in the office of the Veep. This comes close to the appointment of Priyanca Radhakrishnan as New Zealand’s first Indian-origin minister. These are some of the recent developments that show that people of Indian origin can shine on global political sky. Earlier, names such as Priti Patel, Nikki Haley, Rishi Sunak and Leo Varadkar have done India proud by their political achievements.
As she made history, Kamala Harris, in her victory speech on Nov. 8, said she wont’ be the last in office. “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last,” she said. Clad in a white suit in recognition of the suffragist movement that got women of the USA the right to vote about a century ago, Harris added: “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, immigrated from India when she was 19, and died in 2009. As a beaming Kamala entered to the energetic beats of Mary J. Blinge’s song, ‘Work That’, she said she was thinking about her mother. “I’m thinking about her and about the generation of women – Black Women, Asian, White, Latina and Native American women throughout nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight,” she said on Nov. 8.
US President-elect Joe Biden shared the spotlight with his number two during the victory speech in Delaware, which has not been the norm with previous Presidents. This signaled the prominent role Biden has decided to give to Harris.
In India, in the ancestral village of Harris in Tamil Nadu, people discovered tales of her mother’s childhood a couple of weeks ago, until some groups educated them about the family during the run-up to the US Presidential polls. After that villagers performed puja, drew rangoli and burst firecrackers to celebrate the achievement.
Only a few days before Kamala Harris’ ascendency, another Indian-origin politician rose to prominence in New Zealand when re-elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern inducted Priyanca Radhakrishnan, 41, to her 5-member cabinet.
Radhakrishnan will be the Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, and the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment. She is an alumna of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and hails from Ernakulam district in Kerala. She pursued her higher education from Singapore, and then went on to finish her Master’s in Development Studies from the University of Wellington. After she started working as a social worker for the Indian community in Auckland, in 2006 she joined the Left-leaning Labour Party, and in 2017, became an MP in Jacinda Ardern’s party.
As soon as news of Radhakrishnan’s induction into the cabinet broke out, congratulations poured in from several Indian leaders and politicians, including Congress’s Thiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor. Radhakrishnan addressed the New Zealand Parliament in her mother tongue to reinforce the unabashed acceptance of her Indian roots and also to underline the atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance in the island country.
Leo Varadkar, 41, the youngest Prime Minister of Ireland, also has an Indian root. He has an Indian father and an Irish mother. Varadkar is first openly gay PM of Ireland and is a qualified doctor. He was elected a councillor at 24.
Priti Patel, 48, was appointed UK’s secretary of state for the home department in July 2019. A member of the Conservative Party, she has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Witham since 2010. Patel was born in London to a Ugandan-Indian family. She was educated at Keele University and the University of Essex. Inspired to get involved in politics by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she was initially involved with the Referendum Party before switching allegiance to the Conservatives. She unsuccessfully contested Nottingham North at the 2005 general election. After David Cameron became Conservative leader, he recommended Patel for the party’s ‘A-List’ of prospective candidates. She was first elected MP for Witham, a new seat in Essex, at the 2010 general election, before being re-elected in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Under Cameron’s government, Patel was appointed Minister of State for Employment and served as vice-chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
In 2017, she was involved in a political scandal involving unauthorised meetings with the Government of Israel, ending her tenure as International Development Secretary. Under Boris Johnson’s premiership, she became Home Secretary in July 2019.
Nikki Haley, 48, became only the second person of Indian descent to become a governor of South Carolina in the United States in 2011. The first was Bobby Jindal, who became governor of Louisiana. She was the youngest governor in the country before she became United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2018, becoming the first-ever Indian-American in any presidential cabinet.
As U.N. ambassador, she affirmed the United States’ willingness to use military force in response to further North Korean missile tests in the wake of the 2017 North Korea crisis; she was also an outspoken supporter of Israel. Haley voluntarily stepped down from her position on December 31, 2018.
Due to Haley’s experience as governor of South Carolina and as United States ambassador to the United Nations, she is seen as a potential Republican candidate for President of the United States in 2024.
Talking about potential head of state, Rishi Sunak, the finance minister of the UK, is also considered the next PM. Son-in-law of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, Sunak was elected Conservative MP in 2015.
At a time when some of the biggest global companies are being led by desi CEOs – Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ajay Banga of MasterCard, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Sundar Pichai of Google – Indians climbing the world’s political ladder is only heartening.