Governance Politics Profile

Indian Origin Leo Varadkar’s Electoral Victory as the PM of Ireland is Significant

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 Leo Varadkar is the present Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Son of an Indian medical doctor and Irish nurse mother, his election as the head of the government of a Western country is significant. Sadly, Varadkar has not been given pride of place in the 29th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, laments Prof. Ashoka. A Different Truths exclusive

As an ex-NRI (Non-Resident Indian) myself, I follow the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas with a great deal of interest. NRI’s had not been valued in India through most of my days in different parts of the world. All of us who had to travel forty-five or so years ago remember the hassles we had to undergo obtaining a passport, queueing up before Reserve Bank of India to obtain the dreaded P forms before being able to buy the air tickets and then lining up before different consulates to obtain visas. In terms of the foreign exchange, I recall I was only entitled to carry 50 pounds sterling and another five pounds sterling at the airport. Even the 50 pounds were conditional on flying with the national carrier viz Air India. The Reserve Bank had very few branches. Being stationed in Kanpur, I was in a relatively advantageous position; I remember so many people from remote corners who had to undertake the arduous journey.

Palam Airport in those days was a total nightmare. Despite being perhaps the smallest international airport in this region, the chaos and decibels were maddening.

All of us had to travel to Delhi for our visas where many consulates tended to treat us with disdain. The travel agents were anything but helpful. My own travel agent, a supercilious man called Mahajan was infuriatingly dismissive. And Palam Airport in those days was a total nightmare. Despite being perhaps the smallest international airport in this region, the chaos and decibels were maddening. A confirmed ticket was no guarantee to a seat-re-confirmation within 24 hours of the flight was also considered necessary, something that my hyper-efficient travel agent had not apprised me! We had to report four hours before the departure and even that seemed insufficient for the formalities that had to be completed – all manual!

Having witnessed a change for the better in this regard, I am always very gratified to look at the contentment reflected by the NRI’s who partake in this function, which has been going on for well over a decade now. Indians abroad have distinguished themselves in nearly every field of activity and it is nice to know that their contribution is being acknowledged by the country where either they themselves or their forbears originated.

In our days, the consulate staff posted used to derive some perverse pleasure by being unhelpful and dismissive.

 And it is very pleasing to observe that the Indian missions abroad have now taken to fulfilling their main function i.e. assisting the Indian citizens in every possible manner. This privilege is a recent development, which was not available to my generation and is a very recent development. In our days, the consulate staff posted used to derive some perverse pleasure by being unhelpful and dismissive.

Gratifying it always is to watch this extravaganza on the television, I must admit that I was startled to note an omission in the distinguished guest list for the functions held in 2018-19. It appeared surreal to note the absence of perhaps the most notable NRI. I, therefore, lodged an RTI and have only just received the response, which confirms that this person was not invited!

Leo Varadkar is the present Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Son of an Indian medical doctor and Irish nurse mother, who visited India on several occasions and actually completed his medical internship in Bombay. If I had been entrusted with preparing a list, he would have been right at the top. I would regard his election as the head of the government of a Western country as far more significant that election of government heads in countries like Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad and other countries where the Indian diaspora has huge numbers. Indians constitute a tiny minority in Ireland.

Ireland was a staunchly conservative country. Roman Catholics comprise about 95% of the total population and divorce and abortion were an anathema.

Until quite recently, Ireland was a staunchly conservative country. Roman Catholics comprise about 95% of the total population and divorce and abortion were an anathema. Even more so was homosexuality, which was repeatedly declared as a ‘sin’ by the Catholic Church not too long ago. I had my early indoctrination in a Catholic school in India where fair number of teaching nuns were Irish – and while gained a lot from them, I am not particularly proud to confess that I also managed to pick up their prejudices, which took me decades to discard.

For a 38-year-old, half Indian, publicly declared homosexual doctor to assume the top governmental position was unthinkable in the time I used to live there.

The country certainly has come a very long way since! Divorce and abortion are legal and even more remarkable is that Ireland has become one of the few countries to permit same sex marriages -unthinkable not that long ago. I recall the first papal visit to the country, which displayed a mass hysteria that tended to remind one of the visits of the Beatles to the United States. Much of it had to do with the personal of a very charismatic Pope from Poland – the biggest crowd puller of his times! But a lot had to do with the inherent religious conservatism of the country as well. For a 38-year-old, half Indian, publicly declared homosexual doctor to assume the top governmental position was unthinkable in the time I used to live there.

I must declare my own interest. I commenced my career in Ireland and have many fond memories of the time I spent there. Leo Varadkar’s father, Ashok was a general practitioner when I was training in a hospital. Leo was born during that period. The Indian community in Ireland was miniscule and used to mingle at different functions.

Varadkar is the second Indian origin prime minister of a European Union state after Antonio Costa of Portugal.

Varadkar is the second Indian origin prime minister of a European Union state after Antonio Costa of Portugal. And his election was far more convincing to that of Costa. If the suggestion is that he is only half-Indian, that would apply to many American icons including the politicians, who are regularly felicitated in India.

We must also bear in mind that Ireland has had very strong links with India and not known to many, the Indian Constitution resembles the Irish Constitution more than any other. Unsurprising as the Irish statesman Eamonn De Valera was in very close contact with the Constitution framers in India and regularly proffered advice in the light of his experiences. He wrote several letters to both Nehru and the President of the Constituent Assembly. In fact, it was he who had strongly advised that India, given its diversity, should not adopt the Westminster type first past the post system of electing representatives as he believed that it would simply not be able to effect election of a candidate who truly would enjoy the support of the majority for his /her electorate.

Varadkar has not been given pride of place at this event.

In light of this, it is flabbergasting to note that Varadkar has not been given pride of place at this event. I hope the government would be able to rectify this and we would see him at the 29th Pravasi Bharatiya function and given the pride of place he surely deserves.

The fourth part of the article on Medical Education has been held for next week as this report is dated. ~ Managing Editor

©Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Photos from the Internet


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