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Will Sunak join the league of Cheddi Jagan, Ramgulam, Kamala Harris

Indian-origin leaders would not have reached to dizzy heights without sheer hard work, honesty and love for their adopted countries

Cheddi Jagan, Basudeb Pandey, Rishi Sunak and Kamala Harris

Cheddi Jagan, Basudeb Pandey, Rishi Sunak and Kamala Harris

That was little over six decades when 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 later the likes of Shiv Sagar Ramgulam, Naveen Ramgulam, Anerood Jugnauth, Pravind Jugnauth, Basudev Pande, Chandrikapersad Santokhi and many more became either the Presidents or Prime Ministers in island nations like Guyana, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, and Surinam. Kamala Harris even becomes the Vice President of US.

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.

Rishi Sunak case is little different. He is at a shouting distance from 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. Of course, he is getting support from Indians from India and those Indian origin people who migrated to Britain from various countries for greener pastures. 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.

Remember after the abolition of slavery, newly free men and women refused to work for the low wages on offer on the sugar farms in British colonies. Thus, indentured labour were recruited to work on sugar, cotton and tea plantations, and rail construction projects in British colonies in West Indies, Africa and South East Asia. From 1834 to the end of the WWI, Britain had transported about 2 million Indian indentured workers to 19 colonies including Fiji, Mauritius, Ceylon, Trinidad, Guyana, Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa.

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?

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." It is also 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. GL 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, AR 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. 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.

If Rishi Sunak becomes the Prime Minister of Britain, he would not compromise with the interests of his country. However, India will always beat in his heart.

(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)

Vivek Shukla
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