As Rishi Sunak is elected as the Prime Minister of Britain and Indians across the world are happy thanks to his Indian connections, it is time to revisit the history pages of Indian diaspora spread across the world. That was 1961 when tall and handsome Cheddi Jagan, a Guyanese politician whose ancestors were from Basti district of UP, 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 still later the likes of Sir Shiv Sagar Ramgulam, Naveen Ramgulam, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Pravind Jugnauth, Basudev Pande, Chandrikapersad Santokhi and many, many more became either the Presidents or Prime Ministers in island nations like Guyana, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam. Their elevation to top post was a foregone conclusion as the majority populations of these countries belong to people of Indian origin. They all went there as an indentured labours. Kamala Harris even becomes the Vice President of US.
Rishi Sunak case is little different. He has become the PM of Britain and would stay at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of British premier in London, despite the fact that Indians are not at all a majority community in Britain. Sunak’s grand-father shifted to Britain from Kenya in East Africa in 1965. That was his second migration. First was when he shifted to East Africa from Gujranwala (now in Pakistan) in Punjab in 1930s.
Indians are also happy after Rishi Sunak is elected as PM as he is a practising Hindu. Sunak will be the first practising Hindu to preside over a nation whose King is the defender of the Church of England. Sunak made history when he swore his oath to Parliament after the 2017 general elections with his hand on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, as pointed out by `The Guardian`. And he was also the first PM of Britain to celebrate Hindu festivals.
Despite growing up in Britain and going to Winchester, Oxford University and then Stanford, Sunak has never glossed over his cultural roots, staying away from beef and keeping a statuette of Lord Ganesha on his work table. “I can proudly say that I am a Hindu and being a Hindu is my identity,” he said in a media interview, adding that his faith “gives me strength, it gives me purpose. It`s part of who I am.”
Well, while the life and struggles of Indians in West Indies is well-documented, this is not true for the Indians who went to East African countries. In East Africa, the Indians are called as Muhindis. Their forefathers spent their blood, sweat, tear and toil to build Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It was in 1896 when about 32,000 Indians, mainly from Punjab, reached Kenya to build the Kenya-Uganda Railway. They took on jobs as skilled labourers, artisans, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, tailors, motor mechanics and electrical fitters. The Indians continue to shift there till mid 30s.
Of course, the Indians shifted there in search of work, opportunity and food for their families, and they worked under very hostile conditions. Many fell sick. Many were injured. Many died. But in enduring the hardship and harrows of their work, they also left a lasting legacy.
After completing the rail project, several Indians decided to stay back there. And since then they always considered Kenya or Uganda as their own though culturally they still identify with India. Alas, despite such an outstanding track record, some dare question their loyalty towards their adopted countries.
Even after several generations away from your own land, you still do not forget your roots. For instance, former US President Barack Obama proudly talks about his Kenyan roots, does he become less patriotic American? No, not at all. Same way, if Indians in Caribbean islands or in any other country cheer Indian Cricket/Hockey teams or their visiting President or Prime Ministers, what is so bad about it? Sunak is also proud of his Indian and Hindu background.
While the Rishi Sunak’s family migrated to Britain for better life in 1965 and he was born and raised there, but still the Kenya has 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. Says Basudeo Pandey, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, “ When I first came to India in early 60s, I was in tears when our ship reached the shores of Bombay. The feeling I cannot describe in words. For us, India is like a place of pilgrimage. But, my commitment for my country is beyond any question.”
All said and done, when it comes to politics, the Indians are matchless. The over 20 million Indians living across the world are not contended with only earning money. They are in the parliament of over two dozen countries. They would not have reached to dizzy heights without sheer hard work, honesty and love for their adopted countries.
Of course, Rishi Sunak as the Prime Minister of Britain would not compromise with the interests of his country. That’s fair enough. However, India will always beat in his heart. That is for sure.