From the US to New Zealand, people of Indian origin made name for their achievements in politics, business, science, tech and culture. We look at some top names which made headlines across the world in the year 2020
Kamala Devi Harris
Kamala Harris has made history as the first woman, the first Indian American and the first Black woman to become Vice President of the United States. After the victory of Biden-Harris ticket in the American presidential election on November 3, 2020, Harris remembered her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who came to the US at the age of 19 to pursue higher medical studies. “My mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a force of nature and the greatest inspiration on my life,” Harris said. “She taught my sister Maya and me the importance of hard work and to believe in our power to right what is wrong.” In her winning speech, she vowed: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities”.
The Indian-American has been nominated as Director in the White House responsible for managing Joe Biden’s administration’s budget. Tanden has been is Hillary Clinton’s former aide and worked with her during Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 2008. If approved by the Senate, she will be responsible for managing the Biden administration’s budget. On her Twitter profile, Tanden describes herself as, “President of @amprog-Center for American Progress, liberal, Indian American, feminist, mom, wife. Not in that order.” Tanden’s parents divorced when she was five and she was raised by a single mother who was on welfare for over two years thereafter. Tanden has previously said she is a living example of someone who has been helped by government schemes.
For the first time in British politics, the year saw an Indian origin appointed to the top cabinet position. Rishi Sunak was named as the Chancellor after Prime Minister Boris Johnson formed his government after a resounding victory in the December 2019 elections. Sunak’s wife Akshata Murthy is the daughter of Infosys co-founder NR Narayan Murthy. Sunak mostly shuns the limelight and prefers to let his work do the talking. Sunak has had a meteoric rise in Britain’s political circles under Boris Johnson. In fact, he has emerged as strong number 2 in Britain after Prime Minister Johnson. The only time Sunak has been in the news is when he takes a strong stance on certain aspects of the policy and he refuses to budge till he gets his way. He has been praised for his work as the Chancellor even during the tough times during the Covid1-9 pandemic.
Indian-American US Air Force colonel Raja Chari is one of the astronauts selected to form NASA’s Artemis Team for the ambitious manned mission to the moon and beyond. Raja Chari was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for duty in August 2017 and having completed the initial astronaut candidate training is now eligible for a mission assignment. The Iowa native graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1999 with bachelor’s degrees in Astronautical Engineering and Engineering Science. Chari served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California.
Tanay Manjrekar, who hails from Pune, hit the news after he became the first Indian to on November 9 to travel in the Hyperloop Pod at the test facility in Las Vegas. Pune-based Tanay Manjrekar is the first Indian to ride a HyperLoop, a technology that could revolutionize high-speed travel in the future. “Working on hyperloop – let alone being one of the first to ride it – is truly a dream come true,” said Tanay Manjrekar, Power Electronics Specialist at Virgin Hyperloop. “It is my hope that India sees the tremendous opportunity ahead of it, to once again be an innovation leader and leapfrog the rest of the world, and continues its progress in the Mumbai-Pune hyperloop project.”
Priyanca Radhakrishna became New Zealand’s first-ever Indian-origin minister after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern inducted her as Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities. The Ernakulam native has created history by becoming the first-ever Kiwi – Indian minister in the Jacinda Ardern ministry. 41-year-old Priyanca is a second time MP and has been given three key portfolios which include community and voluntary sector, diversity, inclusion and ethnic communities, youth and is also an associate minister for social development and employment. Priyanca is the daughter of Paravoor Madavanaparambu Raman Radhakrishnan and Usha. Even though she has her roots in Paravoor, most of her relatives are based in Chennai – where she was born.
Dr. Ankit Bharat
Dr. Ankit Bharat successfully performed the 1st lung transplant in the World on a COVID-19 patient. He is the chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of Northwestern’s lung transplant program. The Meerut-born Dr. Bharat is also the principal investigator of the study published in peer-reviewed Science Translational Medicine journal of the Science Magazine. Dr Bharat said organ transplantation may become more frequent for victims of the most severe forms of Covid-19. “We provided explicit evidence that Covid-19 can cause permanent damage to lungs in some patients for whom lung transplantation is the only hope for survival,” Dr Bharat said in an interview.
Priti Patel made history earlier this year when she became the first woman from the minority in Britain to be appointed Home Secretary. First elected to the British Parliament in 2010, she has risen dramatically through the Conservative ranks, being appointed Minister of State for Employment by David Cameron in 2015 and then International Development Secretary by Theresa May before her promotion to her current position. She was a member of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that recently released a damning report that warned that the UK was falling behind in the race to engage with India. Patel will be pivotal in shaping the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with India.
The tech icon, who is an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, made a splash at the end of 2019 when Google Co-Founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin gave control of the company they had co-founded more than two decades ago and handed over the reins of parent company Alphabet to Pichai. Forty-seven-year-old Pichai took over the company this year at a time when it is facing antitrust investigations and is mired in controversies over privacy and data practices. Born in Chennai, Pichai studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. He then moved to Stanford University and later attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Pichai has been leading Google for more than four years.
The actor’s humanitarian work during this pandemic consumed yards of newsprint and TV space. Along with his childhood friend and restaurateur Neeti Goel, the actor launched a campaign named ‘Ghar Bhejo’ which arranged for food, transport, medical and other assistance for over 7.5 lakh stranded migrant workers. Be it providing meals to migrants, gifting e-rickshaws to the needy, funding liver transplant operation for six-year-old and helping a girl with knee replacement surgery are among his numerous acts of philanthropy. He has topped UK’s 2020 celebrity list for charitable efforts during the pandemic. Through his efforts for helping out the needy, he proved that not all heroes wear capes.
From his home in New York, celebrity chef Vikas Khanna launched a food drive during COVID-19, feeding millions in his native India. The Michelin-star chef was honored with the prestigious 2020 Asia Game Changer Award for feeding millions across India through a massive food distribution drive that he coordinated. Since April, Khanna’s #FeedIndia initiative has distributed 35 million meals, including cooked and dry ration, as well as 500,000 slippers, 3.5 million sanitary pads, two million masks and other essential supplies across hundreds of cities throughout India.
Gitanjali Rao is a 15-year-old teenager who has been chosen as TIME’s first-ever Kid of the Year for her work using ‘technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying’. The genius teenager is from Colorado, US, and was selected from 5,000 nominees, she was interviewed by Academy award-winning Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie for TIME. Rao’s latest discovery is an app called, Kindly, which detects cyberbullying at an early stage and has also developed another application called Tethys, a device that can measure the content of lead contamination in water with the help of carbon nanotubes.
Sonia Syngal, an Indian -American businesswoman, was appointed in March as the CEO of retail giant GAP Inc. With this appointment she became the highest-ranked Indian-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company after Indra Nooyi who stepped down as PepsiCo head in 2018. After her appointment, Syngal said, “It’s an honor to build on this company’s rich heritage and lead our nearly 130,000 employees in transforming our business and operations to successfully compete in the future,” as quoted by the Indian Express. Earlier, Syngal had headed the old navy unit of the company since 2016. She is responsible for taking the sales of Old Navy from $7 Billion to $8 Billion in just three years.