What is the matter with Indian-origin Americans and British? By and large, desis are professionals, doing well, educated, highly successful in various walks of life, well blended within society. But once they come into mainstream politics, why do they show the worst qualities, least needed in politics.
It’s a similar story on both sides of the Atlantic. And mind you, both the United States and the United Kingdom are heading for general elections. And what are the Indian-origin politicians in the race doing? Behaving like blockheads.
You have Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley, both Republicans, who are displaying appalling behaviour, ready to scratch each other’s eyes out. Here, in the UK, you have a Tory Punch and Judy show going on. You have Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his sacked former Home Secretary Suella Braverman who may end up tearing the Conservative Party.
Clearly, in both countries, these desis hate each other. All four are multicultural immigrants but are ferociously anti-immigration.
Suella’s Explosive Hot Takes
Even as a Home Secretary, Suella Braverman has been a bull in a china shop. She said, it was her "dream” and “obsession” to see a flight take asylum-seekers to Rwanda which attracted severe criticism. That did not stop her from saying that floods of people who come to the UK across the Channel in small boats “possess values which are at odds with our country” and there were "heightened levels of criminality”.
During her incendiary speech at the Conservative party conference in October, she said, “multi-culturalism has failed because it allowed people to come to our society and live parallel lives in it." She called the pro-Gaza ceasefire marches “hate marches”.
The irony of it all is that she is herself a multicultural immigrant of mixed ethnicity. She is the daughter of a Hindu Tamil mother from Mauritius and a Goan Christian father born in Kenya. Her parents emigrated to the UK in the 1960s. She is a Buddhist, belonging to the controversial Triratna sect, and her husband is Jewish. Incidentally, the PM’s wife Akshata Murthy is still an Indian citizen.
A Shared Anti-Immigration Stand
Though Braverman ended up being sacked on 13 November, she is now waging a war against Sunak and his wing of the party. She wrote an open letter to the PM accusing him of breaking his (written) promise to her and that his strategy will lead the Tory Party to defeat. She stopped short of calling for a change of leadership. But clearly, she is readying herself, along with the support of the New Conservative group to lead the party at some point in time.
One cannot overlook Sunak’s opportunism. Despite being already sacked by former PM Liz Truss, Sunak, appointed her as Home Secretary within the next six days, for clearly political reasons to retain the support of the right-wing. His financial misdemeanours involving his wife are also not unknown. In fact, earlier this year, he opened hundreds of new licenses for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and in fact, just a month before that, his father in law's IT firm Infosys had signed a USD 1.5 billion deal with energy giant BP.
Sunak may have found some temporary reprieve by appointing the likes of Lord Cameron, with the left wing of the party being more enthusiastic about things.
Lest we forget, there is yet another Indian-origin right-wing former Home Secretary, Priti Patel, a Gujarati, who has joined the critics of Braverman saying she’s 'all mouth and no trousers.’ She is one to look out for, as a big threat to Braverman’s hopes of emerging as the right’s standard-bearer at the next leadership election.
What is common among the three? All are anti-immigration, wanting out of the European Convention of Human Rights, and after losing its Rwanda flagship plan at the Supreme Court, trying to ignore laws. In fact, Sunak’s comment following the judgment was “I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights.”
It left many legal experts completely shocked as it was the country’s own Supreme Court, situated just across the Parliament which gave the decision, not any foreign court. Add to that opportunism, skulduggery, and behaving as white apologists, infighting, and the desi Brexit trio stand apart from other groups of people of colour, in the government.
It is important to point out that Sunak has remained very dignified and careful with his words. But the likes of Braverman, the most hawkish of the lot, keep getting away with incendiary statements often because of colour of her skin. If any white minister uttered similar remarks, he/she would have been rapped on the knuckle immediately.
Sunak and Ramaswamy: Birds of a Feather Flock Together
The desi duo across the Atlantic have similar traits. However, Sunak, 43, and Ramaswamy, 38, share another common factor – both are super-rich young elites. Both are Hindus. Sunak went to Winchester and Stanford University. Ramaswamy went to Harvard University and then to Yale.
The former is the son of Punjabi immigrant parents, and the latter’s parents are immigrants from Southern India. Since becoming PM, Sunak has been wearing Hinduism on his sleeve, while Ramaswamy says he practices Hinduism but emphasises that he shares "Judeo-Christian values."
An important point to note is that while Indians in the UK have traditionally been Labour supporters, those in the US have been Democrat supporters. But it is the rich elite desis who have swung into prominence rapidly in the right-wing Conservative and Republican parties, respectively.
Ramaswamy-Haley Feud Flares Up
The former South Carolina governor and United States ambassador to the UN, Haley, daughter of Sikh immigrant parents, is fast rising in her ratings. She keeps winning polls that ask voters who they think won the most recent Republican debate. She’s pulling donors away from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. She’s rolling out fringe ideas like criminalising anonymous social media posting to compete with Ramaswamy who wants to ban children from using social media. He wants to end H1B visas, raising the voting age to 25, end birthright US citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, and wants to abolish the FBI and claims to be pro-life but does not want a national ban on abortion.
While the Republican Party is struggling with its anti-abortion messaging Haley seems to be an outlier. She maintains that while she does not “judge anyone for being pro-choice,” she remains personally opposed. Haley stands out for supporting Israel and Ukraine and scoring President Biden for weakness that invited aggression from adversaries.
Ramaswamy showed himself to be a full-throated isolationist. The two have been having verbal spats at various debates and the hatred is quite sharp.
While Ramaswamy is considered to be right-wing, Haley is seen as more moderate. Both candidates talk about their backgrounds but focus more on their identity as "an American." Ramaswamy has said, "I'm an American first" while Haley often says, "America is not a racist country."
With Vice President Kamala Harris, running with President Joe Biden for re-election, three Indian Americans have a presence on the 2024 presidential campaign trail.
Politics can be a dangerous game, but these young Indian-origin politicians need to keep in mind they do not make it any dirtier.
(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)