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First India-born minister in New Zealand, her father says ‘proud, not surprised’

In New Zealand, Priyanca will be Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities; Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector; and Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: November 3, 2020 9:10:55 am
Priyanca Radhakrishnan, 41, has been a member of the Labour Party since 2006.

On Monday, when India-born Priyanca Radhakrishnan was appointed as a Minister in the New Zealand Cabinet led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it was a “proud moment” for her father R Radhakrishnan, an IIT-Kanpur alumnus hailing from North Paravur in Kerala’s Ernakulam district.

But it was hardly a surprise.

For years now, Radhakrishnan had been nudging his daughter towards politics in New Zealand where she had gone to pursue her higher studies from Singapore. In 2017, she went on to become an MP in Arden’s Labour Party.

“The post of Minister was not totally unexpected. We believed that she would get some greater role in the government, and the Prime Minister had indicated to her about it,” said Radhakrishnan, who is settled in Chennai.

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“Today, I spoke to her after hearing about her new role. She is thrilled. She is the first Indian to become a Minister in the New Zealand Government. But I have advised her to not forget the family even while pursuing a career in politics,” he said.

Priyanca, 41, has been a member of the Labour Party since 2006. “Her husband Richardson, a New Zealand citizen who works with an IT firm, joined the party recently. They met when she was working with an NGO for women survivors of domestic violence and migrant workers. They have decided not to have children for the sake of Priyanca’s political career,’’ said Radhakrishnan.

Priyanca had last visited Kerala in July 2019 to take part in rituals related to the death of her mother Usha, who died in February that year.

“When her mother was hospitalised in Chennai, Priyanca stayed for several days at her bedside. But she had to return for a meeting in London, and could not be present when her mother breathed her last,’’ said Radhakrishnan, adding that his elder daughter Manavi is settled in Canada and married to a Canadian management professional.

After post-graduation in civil engineering from IIT-Kanpur, Radakrishnan worked for three years with Mumbai Port Trust before moving to Singapore in 1972 where he worked as a port engineer. He returned with wife Usha to settle in Chennai in 1999.

Both their daughters were born in India, but completed school in Singapore before Priyanca moved to Massey University in New Zealand to pursue a course in Development Studies.

“Priyanca made her debut in politics when she contested and got elected as the International Students’ Officer of the Massey University Students Association. She decided to stay back in New Zealand, when senior leaders of the Labour Party encouraged her to join the party,” said Radhakrishnan.

“She is hardworking and has excellent oratory skills. We encouraged and supported her decision to join politics in New Zealand. We allowed her to move in the direction she wanted to go,’’ he said.

In New Zealand, Priyanca will be Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities; Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector; and Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment. The new Cabinet will be sworn in on Friday

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