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Who is Priyanca Radhakrishnan, First Indian-Origin Woman to Become a Minister in New Zealand?

Priyanca Radhakrishnan made history by becoming the first Indian-origin minister in New Zealand | Image credit: File

Priyanca Radhakrishnan made history by becoming the first Indian-origin minister in New Zealand | Image credit: File

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a two-time MP and leader of the New Zealand's Left-leaning Labour Party for 14 years.

On Monday, Indian-origin politician Priyanca Radhakrishnan created history by becoming the first Indian-Kiwi woman to become a minister in New Zealand.

Radhakrishnan was one of five new ministers inducted into freshly reelected Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who also unveiled a revamped cabinet that she has described as “incredibly diverse".

Who is Priyanca Radhakrishnan?

Radhakrishnan, 41, was born to R Radhakrishnan, an IIT alumnus hailing from Kerala’s Ernakulam district. With her roots in North Paravoor, Radhakrishnan went on to pursue higher education first in Singapore and then New Zeland where she pursued a masters degree in Development Studies from the University of Wellington. She later started working for the Indian community in Auckland as a social worker. In 2006, Radhakrishnan joined the left-leaning Labour party in NZ and in 2017, became an MP in Ardern’s party. A two-time MP, Radhakrishnan has spent 14 years as a Labour Party leader.

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Not a stranger to politics

Though the first Indian-origin woman to become a minister in NZ, Radhakrishnan also had roots in politics. According to reports, her great maternal grandfather Dr C R Krishna Pillai had been a left-wing leader with the Communist Party who played a key role in Kerala politics. According to an interview given by her father, R Radhakrishnan, to Indian Express, she met her husband, New Zeland citizen Richardson who works in IT, while working for an NGO dedicated to survivors of domestic abuse. He too has recently joined the Labour Party. The IIT Kanpur alumnus also said that his daughter’s first break in politics came when she was chosen as the International Students’ Officer of the Massey University Students Association, a post she contested and won. She stayed on in NZ after senior left leaders encouraged her to pursue a career in politics.

What portfolio will Radhakrishnan be handling?

In Ardern’s new cabinet, Radhakrishnan will be sworn in as the Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities as well as the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, and Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment. Radhakrishnan is not the only woman of diverse origin to have been given important portfolios. Ardern’s cabinet also includes Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who became the first indigenous Maori woman to become a minister in NZ, and Grant Robertson, the first openly gay deputy Prime Minister.

How did India react?

As soon as news of Radhakrishnan’s induction as minister broke, several Indian leaders and politicians across party lines took to social media to congratulate her. Congress’s Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor took to Twitter to congratulate the minister, adding that, “Keralites (were) taking great pride in this news!" Kerala’s health minister Shailaja Teacher also took to social media to laud the Kerala native.

Ardern won with a landslide victory in the October 2017 elections. Her new cabinet is set to be sworn in on Friday.

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