Kochi: When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wished Keralites on the occasion of Onam in August, Priyanca Radhakrishnan was standing right next to her. After explaining about the Kerala festival in English, Priyanca extended her Onam greetings in fluent Malayalam. Priyanca was then the Parliamentary private secretary of Minister Jenny Salesa.
Priyanca, who became New Zealand’s first-ever Indian-origin minister on Monday, has her roots in North Paravoor in Kerala's Ernakulam district.
Priyanca's father R Radhakrishnan had left Kerala after his pre-university studies. He worked in Singapore. Now, he runs an engineering firm in Chennai.
Radhakrishnan's ancestral home, Madavanaparambu, is at North Paravoor. His maternal grand-aunt Gauriamma is the wife of Kesari Balakrishna Pillai.
Priyanca's sister Manavi is in Canada with her family. Priyanca's husband Richardson works in the IT sector.
A good orator, says her father
R Radhakrishnan said that Priyanca was a good orator right from her school days.
"She was also good at interacting with people. Though she has not studied in Kerala, she speaks Malayalam fluently. But does not know how to read and write," her father said.
Jacinda Ardern and Priyanca became active in politics in the same year. Both of them are good friends as well.
"Priyanca had said about Ardern hinting that she should be prepared to take up more responsibilities the other day. To serve the society as a minister is a big opportunity. Priyanca is also thrilled," he added.
"Priyanca's mother Usha died in last February. She is really disheartened that her mother, who gave her all support, is not by her side anymore," the father said.
Priyanca, who was a foreign student at the Victoria University in Wellington, began her public life as the international student officer. She then became a strong voice in the policy-making stages of the Labour Party.
Lost but still victorious
Priyanca, who contested from Maungakiekie in Auckland, lost by over 2,000 votes. But still she was nominated to Parliament based on the votes received by the Labour Party. Direct elections are held to only 71 of the 120 seats in New Zealand's Parliament. The rest of the seats are divided proportionally among parties based on the votes they received. These are known as list seats.
Jacinda Ardern announced the most diverse cabinet on Monday. The cabinet has eight women, including Jacinda Ardern and Priyanca; three from the indigenous Maori tribe and three from the LGBTQ community.