(December 31, 2022) Indians across the world cheered and clapped as Rishi Sunak took the oath as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom earlier this year. But, this is not an isolated case. India has the largest diaspora in the world – over 13 million Indians live outside the country, with 17 million individuals of Indian origin. While they are known to be skilled IT professionals, several Indian-origin politicians have earned important designation in governments worldwide.
Global Indian takes a look at a few notable politicians and diplomats, who have made their mark as immigrants or children of immigrants around the world this year.
Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
“Trust is earned and I will earn yours,” said Rishi Sunak, soon after being sworn in as the Prime Minister of the UK on October 25. It’s cause for celebration by Asians the world over. Understandably so – it’s an accomplishment with many firsts (he is the first Hindu and the first person of colour to hold the PM’s office. He is also the youngest and richest ever). Although his family’s connections with Africa go back two generations, Rishi has never doubted that his roots are truly Indian.
Having grown up in the UK, Rishi found success soon after college, working with two hedge funds and going on to become a partner at one. Despite a life of privilege, the politician has hardly been the man to choose the easy way – whether it’s taking off across the Atlantic or choosing to enter politics as a Conservative candidate. His first bid for Prime Minister was thwarted by Liz Truss although he burst back onto the scene with the overwhelming support of 190 MPs.
“The U.K. and India share so much. I’m excited about what our two great democracies can achieve as we deepen our security, defense, and economic partnership in the months and years ahead,” the youngest PM of the UK shared in a recent interview.
Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Ireland
After serving as the Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment from June 2020 to December 2022, Leo Eric Varadkar took over as the new Irish Prime Minister for the second time, earlier this month. Often called the Celtic Tiger, Leo has been able to pull Ireland out of an economic crisis, and incorporated a road map for achieving a low-carbon economy. During his first address as Taoiseach, the politician said that his government would be “one of the new European centres.”
Given Ireland’s staunchly Catholic past, Leo’s sexuality was always a talking point across the globe. However, Taoiseach believes that Irish society is changing. During an earlier interview, the politician had said, “I think other people, perhaps people braver than me, who campaigned for equal rights before the law changed things for me – To them, I’m very grateful. But it does add additional responsibility on me, that I do want to use the office that I now hold to advance equality of opportunity, to advance the concepts of equal rights before the law. That’s not just for people from the LGBT community here in Ireland, but also in Northern Ireland, and around the world where such rights are under threat.”
Niklaus Samuel Gugger, Member of the Swiss National Council
In 1970, a Malayali woman gave birth to a baby boy in Udupi, Karnataka, and told the doctor to give her child for adoption to a family that will look after him well, before abandoning the newborn. Five decades later that child, now known as Niklaus-Samuel Gugger, became the first Indian-origin politician to be elected to the Switzerland parliament. Within a week of his abandonment, Gugger was adopted by a Swiss couple — Fritz and Elizbeth Gugger. His new parents took him to Kerala when he was just 15 days old, and they lived there for around four years before moving to their native in Switzerland.
In 1997, after the Luxor massacre – which claimed the lives of 62 people – Nik was approached by the members of the Evangelical Peoples Party (EPP) to join their ranks, an invitation that he readily accepted. “Much of my work has been around the development of people and socio-political issues. My goal has been to integrate the weakest in the society through socio-ethical management and empowerment,” the politician shared with Global Indian.
A social entrepreneur, Nik has worked extensively to coach the next generation. Nik is the co-founder and member of the board of directors of the consulting company Herzkraftwerk AG in Winterthur, which offers coaching for decision-makers from business and non-profit organisations. A life coach and motivational speaker, Nik is also the Vice President of the environmental organization BirdLife Switzerland. He is also the owner of the famous Ayurvedic ginger drink in Switzerland – Zingi.
Gautam A. Rana, US Ambassador to Slovakia
A lawyer by profession, Gautam A Rana is a member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselors, and was recently appointed as the US Ambassador to Slovakia, for which he was nominated by President Joe Biden. Having served at various US embassies, including India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Algeria, Gautam is a proud Indian-American.
The diplomat feels that the diaspora has grown from being just immigrants to holding important positions in various spheres of the country. “I think that the Indian diaspora in the United States of America has a lot of reasons to be proud of themselves. There are so many people of Indian lineage who are in decision-making positions now in the USA, including the Vice President, Kamala Harris. But that is the story of America. People who have come to this land, and have worked hard, have been able to achieve so much in the USA. I think Indian Americans will continue to reach great milestones.”
Currently stationed at Bratislava with his wife and two kids, Gautam is heading the US convoy to the land of the Slavs. While he hasn’t been able to visit India since he moved back in 2014, he wishes to bring his boys to the country he was born in, someday.
Aruna Miller, Lt Governor, Maryland
Aruna Miller was seven years old when she first entered the United States with her family back in 1972. About four decades later, she became the second Indian-American woman to enter the House of Representatives after Pramila Jayapal, and the first immigrant Lt Governor of Maryland. An alumnus of the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the politician spent over 25 years as a transportation engineer in Montgomery Country.
She first dabbled in politics in 2006, when she was elected to serve as an at-large member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, a position she held until 2010. Her career as a public servant has been dotted with many milestones – she has batted for issues like paid family leave, and transportation policies stood against domestic violence, and emerged as a proponent of STEM education.
In her new role as the Lt Governor of Maryland, the politician intends to hit the ground running, taking on three major issues – education, the climate, and the economy. Investing in public education and job creation is a top priority, she says, it is also a means to create safer public spaces.