11 Indian-origin Persons Who Served As Heads of State

Here is look at Indian-origin persons who served as the prime minister or president of their country.


When JY Pillai was appointed the acting president of Singapore on Sept. 1, it was not the first time he assumed the post. The 83-year-old Indian-origin civil servant took over the duties every time the acting president went on an overseas trip. Pillay had until now filled the post for brief periods more than 60 times.

Pillay, however, is only the latest Indian-origin person to take over as the head of state. Here is a look at other personalities with Indian roots who have served at the highest positions in a country:

Antonia Costa (Portugal’s Current Prime Minister)

Costa, Portugal’s incumbent prime minister, was born in Lisbon. His father, Orlando da Costa, was a Portuguese journalist and writer, who was of Goan, Portuguese and French descent. Costa’s relatives still live in Margao, Goa.

Costa graduated with a law degree from the University of Lisbon, and first entered politics in the 1980s where he was elected as a socialist deputy to municipal council. He practised law for a brief period of time before joining politics full time. He was the Socialist Party’s candidate for prime minister in the 2015 elections. He assumed office on Nov. 26, 2015.

Costa’s term has seen a return to economic growth in the country after nearly a decade of stagnation. The popularity of the Socialist Party has also seen a rise in his term. 

Leo Varadkar (Ireland’s Current Prime Minister)

Ireland’s youngest prime minister was born on Jan. 18, 1979 in Dublin. The 38-year-old politician’s father, Ashok Varadkar, is a doctor who was born in Mumbai and moved to England in the 1960s. His mother, Miriam, is an Irish nurse. Varadkar followed his father into medicine.

He became a councillor at the age of 24, and was elected to Irish parliament in 2007. In 2011, Varadkar was appointed minister for transport, tourism and sport, and then health minister once the Fine Gael party came to power. He came out of the closet as a homosexual in 2015. A few months after his disclosure, Ireland voted in a referendum to legalise same-sex marriage.

CV Devan Nair (Singapore President from 1981 to 1985)

The third president of Singapore was born on August 5, 1923  to a rubber plantation clerk who hailed from Thalassery in Kerala. His family migrated to Singapore when he was 10 years old.

Nair’s disdain for colonialism was seen right from his childhood where he changed the lyrics of Rule Britannia to an anti-British one in a school choir performance before the British guest of honour. His entry into politics started when he joined as a member of the communist Anti-British League. He was detained by the British in 1951 for anti-colonial activities and was released when Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party, which he subsequently joined, won the elections in 1959. He then became the Minister of Education.

Nair entered the Singapore Parliament in 1979. He served as president from Oct. 23, 1981 to March 27, 1985.

 Cheddi Jagan (Guyana President from 1992 to 1997)

Cheddi Jagan has been one of the Caribbean’s most contentious political leaders. The Indian-origin firebrand leader is credited with leading Guyana to Independence, and is often called ‘Father of the Nation’.

Jagan was born on March 22, 1918. His grandparents had migrated from India as indentured labourers at a sugarcane plantation. Along with his wife, Jagan founded the People’s Progressive Party, which was the first modern political organisation in the British colony.

When he was elected to the prime minister’s post of the small country, the United States engineered his ouster because of his pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist politics. He served as an opposition for nearly 30 years. He returned to power as president in 1992 and maintained cordial relationship with the United States after the end of the Cold War. He died on March 6, 1997.

Bharrat Jagdeo (Guyana President from 1999 to 2011)

Named by Time magazine as an ‘environmental hero’, Jagdeo, who was born on Jan. 23, 1964, joined the youth wing of Jagan’s People’s Progressive Party at the age of 13. By 16, he was already a member. After getting a Master’s degree in Economics from Moscow in 1990, he returned to Guyana and worked as an economist in the State Planning Secretariat.

When the People’s Progressive Party won the election in 1992, Jagdeo was a special advisor to the finance minister. Following Jagan’s death, and after his wife Janet Jagan stepped down as the president after a tenure of two years, Jagdeo became the president of the party. He became the president of the country on August 11, 1999, and served for two terms.

Basdeo Panday (Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister from 1995 to 2001)

Panday was born on May 25, 1933 to Harry ‘Chote’ Sookchand and Kissoondaye Panday, who migrated from India to a village in Princes Town, Trinidad and Tobago. He obtained degrees in law from Lincoln’s Inn, economics from the London University, and drama from the London School of Dramatic Arts. He also acted in movies like Nine Hours to Rama (1963), Man in the Middle (1964) and Brigand of Kandahar (1965) when he was in London.

Panday entered politics in 1966 when he joined the Workers and Farmers’ Party. He started a private practice as a lawyer and fought for workers’ rights. He became president general of the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers’ Trade Union in 1973. Until he was appointed as the prime minister in Nov. 1995, he continued to serve that position.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister from 2010 to 2015)

Born on April 22, 1952 at Siparia, southern Trinidad, in a Brahmin family, Persad-Bissessar belonged to a family that traced their lineage to Bhelpur in India. Persad-Bissessar got a diploma in education and law, following which she gained an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, Trinidad.

She first became a teacher, and then entered politics in 1987. In 1995, she became the Member of Parliament for Siparia, serving as Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs, and Minister of Education between 1995 and 2001. In 2006, Persad-Bissessar was appointed the leader of Opposition, and became the first woman to hold that position in the country. On May 26, 2010, she created history once again by becoming the first woman to hold the office of the prime minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Mahendra Pal Chaudhry (Fiji Prime Minister from 1999 to 2000)

Mahendra Pal Chaudhry is the leader  and founder member of Fiji’s Labour Party. He rose to the position of the prime minister of Fiji in 1999, becoming the first Indo-Fijian to hold the position. He is especially lauded for promoting Indian values, culture and tradition abroad.

Chaudhry’s ancestral ties can be traced to the Bahu Jamalpur village in Haryana. His paternal grandfather arrived in Fiji in 1902 as an indentured laborer to work on Fiji’s plantation. However, he refused to work in plantations and was employed as a store manager until he started his own business.

Mahathir Mohamad (Malaysia Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003)

Mahathir Mohamad, who holds the distinction of being the longest running prime minister of Malaysia, has been a prominent figure in the country for decades. Born on July 10, 1925, Mohamad was raised in Alor Setar, British Malaya. His grandfather was brought to Malaya from Kerala by the British East India Company to teach English at the Kedah royal palace. Despite his low socio-economic background, Mohamad became a doctor, and became active in politics by entering the United Malay National Organisation.

Anerood Jugnauth (Served as both President and Prime Minister of Mauritius for several terms)

 Born into a traditional Hindu Ahir family in La Caverne, Vacoas Phoenix, Anerood Jugnauth studied law in the United Kingdom. His foray into politics began with his election in the constituency No14 of Riviere du Rempart in 1963 as a candidate of the Independent Forward Block. He came to power in 1982 as the Prime Minister. Jugnauth, whose grandfather had migrated to Mauritius from India in the 1850s, also served as president during 2003-2008 and 2008-2012. In 2014, he was elected to his sixth term as prime minister, from which he stepped down earlier this year to make way for his son, Pravind.

Ramsewak Shankar (Suriname President from 1988 to 1990)

Ramsewak Shankar is a Surinamese politician who served as the 4th president of the South American country from 1988 to 1990. His government was overthrown in a military coup led by Desi Bouterse. Shankar, who was born on Nov. 6, 1937, studied in the Netherlands and got active in the Progressive Reform Party once he returned to Suriname.

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