The application of Peter Sands, global chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank, for Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status, has put the Indian High Commission in a fix. The mandarins cannot decide whether or not he qualifies.
Neither Sands nor his parents or forefathers have Indian blood. But he stakes his claim by pointing out that his mother was born in India and lived there for years, attending Cathedral School in Mumbai. “He is very proud of his Indian heritage,” said a Standard Chartered spokesperson. “He is a regular visitor to India. His family is involved in charity work in the country.”
High Commission officials refused to discuss the matter, pointing simply to the existing eligibility rules. Sands seemingly does not fit into any of the existing categories considered eligible for a PIO card. Only those who have held an Indian passport at some stage, or those whose forefathers were both born in and remained permanent residents of India, qualify. Spouses of such individuals are also eligible.
But many Indians in Britain felt such a narrow view was unfair. “India must give PIO cards to people like Sands. India should not be racist,” said well known academic Lord Meghnad Desai.
“It is almost Hitler-like to be concerned about stock and ethnicity,” added Lord Desai. “There are many English folk whose forefathers lived and worked in India. They were as Indian as Indian can be. Like Sands, they all deserve PIO cards.”
Long before Sands, there was Trevor Bernard, a senior British journalist who was born and grew up in Indian. He was so Indian in his ways that when Lalit Mansingh was High Commissioner to Britain, he used to say that Bernard should be given a complimentary PIO card once the scheme which was then still being formulated came through. When Bernard died recently, his ashes were scattered over the China peak near Nainital as he had willed.
“India must grow up,” said Lord Desai. “We must not discriminate on the basis of race.”