Monday, April 15, 2024

Rishi Sunak isn’t the first Indian to leave a mark on world stage

As Rishi Sunak is elected as the Prime Minister of Britain and Indians across the world are happy, it is very important that the discourse on Indian Diaspora should not be confined to the likes of Cheddi Jagan, Sir Shiv Sagar Ramgulam, Naveen Ramgulam, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Pravind Jugnauth, Basudev Pande, Chandrikapersad Santokhi and many, many more who became either the Presidents or Prime Ministers in island nations like Guyana, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam. 

And while tracing the roots of Rishi Sunak, we learn that his grand father migrated to Kenya and later to Britain for better life.  Remember Kenya has still a very large Indian diaspora that is relentlessly building the beautiful country. While welcoming Prime Minister Narender Modi couple of years ago in Nairobi, President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta admits, “ The Indian influence in Kenya is implicit in our food: in Chapatis, Samosas, Chai and Bhujia.” 

As Rishi Sunak has elected as the PM of Britain, it is important to remember that the Indian-Kenyans who made this country their home did not just work to build themselves and their families. They also sought, more broadly, to serve this country and support their African peers. Indeed, they were central to liberation efforts and many, many of them made great sacrifices to see this country set free.

 Sardar Makhan Singh, for instance, was the first person to call for an end to British Rule. He fought tooth and nail for equal pay among black, European and Indian workers, and he spent years in prison for his dissent. G.L. Vidyarthi, founded a newspaper-the Colonial Times-and used it as a tool to challenge the colonialists’ cruel treatment of Africans.  Lawyers like Diwan Chaman Lal, A.R Kapila, Fitz D’Souza and Jaswant Singh built the legal infrastructure of East Africa. Indeed, East African freedom fighters received support from thousands of miles away from the then Prime Minister Pt. Nehru.

And for several decades, the hockey teams of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania used to have Sikh players. And who can forget Avtar Singh Sohal Tari, considered to be the greatest Sikh Sportsmen outside India. He represented Kenya in Rome 1960 Olympic Games for the first time. He captained Kenya at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Mexico (1968) and Munich (1972) and was also captain at the 1st World Cup in Barcelona in 1971 where Kenya finished fourth. He visits India often on ‘pilgrimage’ as he himself says. Recalls Tari, “ When I first reached Mumbai in early 1960s, I was in tears. It was tears of joy as I was in the land of my forefathers. For Sikhs, India is a Gurughar.” Even Basudeo Pandey, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago had similar experience to share, “ When I first came to India in late  60s, I was in tears when our ship reached the  shores of Bombay. The feeling I cannot describe in words.  But, my commitment for my country is beyond any question.” Pandey was the Prime Minister of Brian Lara’s country.

Well, if you are talking about the strong Indian Diaspora of Kenya, you can not ignore legendary Safari car rally driver, Joginder Singh Bhachu. He  was a successful endurance rally driver in the 1960s and 1970s. Popularly known as “The Flying Sikh”, He won the Safari Rally three times, in 1965 driving a Volvo PV544 with his brother Jaswant as co-driver, and in 1974 and 1976 driving a Mitsubishi Colt Lancer 1600 GSR.Joginder Singh died of heart failure in London on Sunday 20 October 2013, he was aged 81.

Other Indians who left their mark, included men of eminence in the field of sports and literature. Men cricketers Sonny Ramadhin, Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Isaac Kallicharran, Shivnarain Chanderpaul, Hashim Amla, Vikash Dhorasoo, a French former professional footballer who played as a midfielder in the French side and  Fiji born golfer Vijay Singh. VS Naipaul and Salman Rushdie are no less than any head of the state.  

But of course Indians as politicians abroad are a breed apart. There are over 20 million Indians living across the world and in parliament of over two dozen countries. Obviously hard work, honesty and integrity towards their adopted countries had a big role in shaping their destiny. 

Cheddi Jagan, a Guyanese politician whose ancestors were from Basti district of UP, was first elected as the premier of British Guiana from 1961 to 1964, prior to independence. He later served as president of Guyana from 1992 to 1997. 

And of course, we are not forgetting Kamala Harris as the present vice-president of the United States. 

 (The author is an eminent bi-lingual writer and columnist. He is based in New Delhi)

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