His political odyssey.
By Ruby Sirinarang
On 22 May 2022, a Thai-Indian entrepreneur ran for the Bangkok Metropolitan Council seat, under ‘Number 7 from Wattana District.’ Afterwards, he didn’t rest on his laurels, but ran this year as a Member of Parliament (MP) under the party list quota. Recently, he’s been appointed as an Advisor to Puangpet Chunlaiad, the Minister attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, a significant leap forward from a humble businessman. This man was Nikorn Sachdev, a charismatic Thai-Indian with a vision.
Born and raised in Thailand, Nikorn graduated from university at the age of 20 and joined his family’s textile business. Over two decades later, he transitioned from a businessman to a politician at the age of 46, and is now a member of Thailand’s most affluent party, the Pheu Thai Party. Nikorn was my senior in school, and some of my prominent memories of him from those bygone days were of his role as school captain. Years passed and schooling ended, but not his aptitude for leadership, or his passion to create change. Today, he represents the Thai-Indian community as a young politician with a bigger vision.
Having still kept in contact with him through our morning runs together, I spoke to him further about how he wants to shine a light on the Thai-Indian culture and community.
To begin, could you please briefly describe your journey and the reasons you chose to pursue a career in politics?
The process of becoming a leader and wanting to serve others began at an early age. I recall volunteering as a teacher’s assistant while studying in the Convent of Jesus and Mary Hampton Court, Mussoorie, whilst all my buddies were running around. In high school, I was made the school captain. While at university, I joined the AIESEC community, a youth- led non-governmental and not-for-profit organisation, and campaigned for the student government. After graduating, I joined my family’s business similar to other Thai-Indians in the community.
What motivated me to enter ‘serious’ politics was mainly a sense that it was time. Let me elaborate: when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it showed me that time is not your friend. If you want to do something, do it now! I began pursuing my aim of representing our community on a larger scale in Thai politics. It all started at the Indian Association Council, where I discovered that there were over 60 Indian communities in Thailand. This has now been reduced to 33 groups, which represent various religious backgrounds from all over India. Getting them to collaborate under one umbrella was initially a daunting task. However, today we can proudly declare that Indians represent themselves as members of the Indian Association of Thailand (IAT).
In my political career, I started with the Democrat Party. After two years, I became more knowledgeable about the political scene. Soon after, the Pheu Thai Party gave me a position as a district councilman for the Wattana district.
What prompted your move from the Democrat Part to the Pheu Thai Party, and how did the community react?
As a matter of fact, the majority of our Thai- Indian community are supporters of the Democrats. In my opinion, the fundamental difference between the Democrats and Pheu Thai is that the latter recognised the value of the Indian minority. That was a motivating factor for me. Today, we have two politicians from the Thai-Indian community in Pheu Thai, and both have been given major responsibilities, which is also a first for our Thai-Indian community in Thailand.
After a short while with Pheu Thai, the party gave me the opportunity to run for the district council in Wattana district, to get a feel for what it would be like for a Thai-Indian to run for office.
For the laymen among us, can you tell us a little bit more about what being part of the district council entails, and give us your insight into Thailand’s form of government?
Essentially, in our government, we have a parliament, which is divided into two houses: the Upper and the Lower houses. We have 500 MPs (Members of Parliament) in the Lower house, 400 representing constituencies and 100 representing the party list. There are 250 senators in the Upper house.
Meanwhile, Bangkok has its own parliament and 50 districts. In Bangkok’s parliament, there is a Governor and a Deputy Governor. Each of Bangkok’s 50 districts has one representative, who is known as the district councilman (in Thai, Sor Kor). They make decisions on issues related to Bangkok; for example, the BTS, lights, budgets for each district, the district’s 437 public schools, public waste, canals, footpaths, etc.
At the government level, we now have Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, from the Pheu Thai Party. There is also an opposition party. Whatever the government does, the opposition keeps a tab on the government including the Prime Minister. On the other hand, in the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), there is no opposition party, but there are 50 district councils, and they keep tabs on the Governor.
That can certainly be hard to keep track of! What are your current responsibilities?
Just to reiterate, in 2022, I ran for District Council. This year, I ran for MP (Sor Sor in Thai) under the party list quota. However, I was not elected to either position. Now, I am appointed as an Advisor to Mrs. Puangpet Chunlaiad, the Minister attached to the Office of the Prime Minister. On the government level, we manage communications and telecoms media, amongst other things. This is one of the most important ministries because it handles all the work for the Office of the Prime Minister. In addition, I am a member of the BMA subcommittee, and I also have a role at the Phra Nakhon District to develop the Khlong Ong Ang Walking Street, now known as ‘Little India.’ This is the venue where the Diwali festival was held for the second time in collaboration with the BMA, the Ministry of Culture, and the Department of Religious Affairs.
I’m sure many of us have visited, and enjoyed ourselves at, the charming area known as ‘Little India.’ In what ways does a dedicated space to showcase Indian culture help the Thai-Indian community?
I have a vision. For example, the concept of ‘Little India’ was originally the idea of the Governor of Bangkok, Acharn Chadchart Sittipunt, one which he revealed to me when we were vying for office last year. When he became Governor, he told me to go ahead and make it happen.
Diwali is a holiday that brings everyone together, regardless of faith or culture. That is why we chose Khlong Ong Ang Walking Street, which houses the Gurudwara and Dev Mandir, as the inaugural Diwali celebration location. People had the chance to experience the splendour of Diwali in the heart of Little India, which is on Phahurat Road at Phra Nakhon District, between 17-19 November this year. Aside from commemorating the ‘Festival ofLights,’ it also helped local businesses, and strengthened the local economy.
It was an enormous success. The BMA has announced that they will organise the Diwali festival every year, in collaboration with IAT. This was our vision last year, and it came true in spectacular fashion not just last year, but this one as well.
In fact, we’ve already created a whole schedule of Indian holidays that will be held at Little India. These include Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist festivals; such as Vaisakhee, Lohri, Diwali, Ganesh Puja, Kali Mata, Navratri, Eid, and more. This way, we are bringing the community together and creating a bustling environment, similar to Chinatown. One positive aspect of our Thai-Indian community is that we are very charitable. We are attempting to make our Thai brothers and sisters aware of this, so that we can work together to make a better place for future generations.
You are undoubtedly laying the groundwork for a more vibrant and active existence in our neighbourhood. Did you face any challenges to get to where you are today?
Yes, absolutely! Anything new in life is a challenge in and of itself. It’s all about how you manage it. What I’ve learned in the past two years of working in politics is that one must have a great mindset. In the morning, I meditate and the greatest way for me to meditate is to listen to Japji Sahib (Sikh script). This allows me to relax and establish my priorities for the day.
I’m also learning the art of living a work/ life balance. Our livelihood is dependent on business, but politics is a social activity. Fortunately, I have a strong support system at work, and I organise my schedule to maximise my productivity. I am at the workplace three to four times per week, and set aside time as needed each week for all my political meetings. On Saturdays and Sundays, I go to university and study from 9am to 4pm. Most significantly, I schedule my vacation trips around my son’s school holidays. This is important to me since it helps me recharge, renew, and refresh myself, while also spending time with my family.
To lead on from that, how is your family supporting you in your political endeavours?
My wife is my most ardent supporter. She is both my source of energy and my source of strength. In fact, before I entered politics, a close friend advised me to seek permission from my wife. I did, and my wife told me, “If it’s your dream, go for it.” Additionally, I am incredibly appreciative of the help that my friends, family, and the Indian community as a whole have given me.
Before we conclude, what advice would you give someone considering a career in politics?
One of my favourite moments is when someone approaches me and asks, “How can I get into politics? How does it work?” This was once considered a taboo arena, and you’d often hear unfavourable comments about it. However, the world is changing, and Indians throughout the world are becoming increasingly visible in politics. It is time to stop thinking of ourselves as Thai-Indians or Indians living in Thailand, and start thinking of ourselves as ‘Thai.’
We live here, we work here, and we pay our taxes. We aim to make Thailand a better place for ourselves and future generations. The best approach to contribute is to be properly represented, so that our voices are heard at the national level.