RISHI Sunak’s appointment as prime minister of the UK has led to a hot debate in India, where questions are being asked whether India can emulate Britain and appoint a minority to the land’s highest office. Can Muslim or a Christian can become the prime minister of India?
Surely something positive will come out of all that talk.
Since independence, India has had 15 prime ministers and all except one – Manmohan Singh – are Hindu. When Sonia Gandhi’s name was bandied about as a possible premier, there was a lot of opposition as she was of Italian-origin and a Catholic. She quickly withdrew from the contest and Manmohan was appointed instead.
No Muslim candidates have ever been seriously considered for the role even though Muslims are a large minority in India. Possibly it is due to the pain of partition in 1947 and the tussle over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Among Indian presidents and vice-presidents, there has been a better communal and gender mix. These posts have been held by Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, a Sikh and more.
The community that has been most left out are Christians. There are generally three groups of Christians in India: the Christians of Kerala and Tamil Nad; those in the northeast including Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya; and Anglo-Indians who number about 100,000. Though they have contributed much to the public and private sectors, Christians have not been seriously considered for the premiership or the presidency of India. The closest a Christian came to a presidency was in 2002. P. C. Alexander was regrettably dropped at the last minute. In the 2022 vice-presidential race, Christian candidate Margaret Alva lost due to lack of support.
Unless big political parties like the BJP and the Congress Party or a united opposition support them, minorities don’t stand a chance at elective positions. Unlike the Congress Party, which has a sizeable number of Muslim and Christian members, the BJP mainly comprises Hindus. The BJP is expected to be in power in India for the near future. For the time being, Muslims and Christians have to be content with the positions of ministers, chief ministers, governors, ambassadors, and top judicial appointments.
As long as India remains secular and democratic the prospect of minorities assuming the premiership in the future cannot be ruled out. Elsewhere in the world, many immigrants, who become citizens, are assuming top political positions. The status quo is set to change ,and in the years ahead the world will see many more Rishi Sunaks as gender, religion and race are no longer hurdles. – October 27, 2022.
* V. Thomas reads The Malaysian Insight.