Sunny Chandra believes being Indian is incidental to his candidacy as he stands poised to contest the Australian federal elections.
At his Little Collins Street Office in Melbourne, Sunny Pratap Chandra has his calculations worked out on a board in his office room. After all, most politicians must get their numbers right. Chandra is banking on the 160,000 non-mainstream voters. He admits he would be lucky to get at least 70,000 but hopes his proposals would attract mainstream voters too.
If you are wondering, Chandra is an IT professional-cum-entrepreneur-cum-migration agent with a political profile that is quite hybrid. For a long time, he was a Liberal voter and then a Labor voter but he has now joined the political fray as an Independent candidate for the Senate representing Victoria. With reason.
Chandra is all for more immigrants coming to Australia’s regional areas at a time when cutting down the country’s immigrant intake is a refrain most politicians are singing. “I would be under the whip of any party (I join) to toe the line for their particular agenda. If I am against their agenda, how could I join them? I am not seeking anything from any party, I am an Independent happy to sit on the cross bench,” he says.
In Chandra’s telling, his joining politics is the result of his hard work and his realisation that “somebody has to stop the rot that is happening in this country… somebody has to stop those using the immigration act as a weapon to pacify the Far Right and the Far Left, otherwise we are in a lot of trouble. Somebody has to stand up, I am the one and I want the support,” he fervently appeals.
Chandra believes he is probably the only politician calling for more immigration. “The Far Right and Conservatives are saying cut back to 160,000 or even lower. Pauline Hanson is talking about bringing back to 60,000. The Far Left is only interested in a handful of people, few thousand in detention. What about the middle. We get 600,000 people here on temporary residency (TR) visas. And I am saying increase the ceiling.”
Having been a migration agent for the past ten years, Chandra says there is tidal wave of immigration happening with 600,000 people stuck with bridging visas at the moment. “If our quota is reduced to 160,000 as both sides of politics are saying, we are stuffed. These guys don’t know what they are talking about, we have done the numbers. How much skilled visas are we giving every year – 18,000? And some 40,000 to 50,000 for partner visas? And if only 160,000 are to get absorbed you are going to cut down in skilled migration. You are shooting yourself in the foot.”
Having lived in the regional areas of Victoria with Kyneton as his base, Chandra says the regions are crying out for more immigrants. “The normal good people of the regions want immigrants because their children are growing and moving to the cities, they themselves are getting old, they don’t have enough people to look after them. There are enough children being born but it is another 30 years before they become productive. Don’t just think about skilled migration, concentrate on the students.”
Having lived in Australia for 44 years now, Chandra knows the importance of getting in more people in Australia’s regional areas and, in his understated style, he is suggesting a clear break from the anti-immigrant voices. “Send the students into the regions when they are young.”
Born in Varanasi, Chandra graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur, India, with a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) in Metallurgical Engineering (1966). After completing his M.Sc. in Engineering from Queens University, Canada (1968), he returned to India to work with IBM. And then he took six months leave of absence and went to Kolkata where he met his first wife, an Australian volunteer. They fell in love and got married.
The marriage was not received well by his family. Chandra whose full name was Pratap Chandra Gupta had to drop the Gupta surname as he was ex-communicated from the Gupta clan. It was not happy times. Soon IBM closed down in India in 1974 and he found himself jobless. But given his background, he took the opportunity to start a small software company with a focus on making products.
Soon after, Chandra chose to leave everything and move to Australia with his wife. “I came with three pounds and 10 shillings (that was all that was allowed then) and my three children,” he reflects. Upon arrival in Sydney, he recalls being put up in Villawood, which is now a detention centre. At the time it was a reception centre for people coming with no form of support.
Migrating to Australia had its fair share of ordeals. At Adelaide where his wife was from, he worked many odd jobs – from cutting cows at an abattoir to driving taxis – until IMB finally hired him again, but as a trainee. “This is a wonderful country, you work hard you get the opportunity,” says Chandra who went on to become one of the top half percent of sales people around the world for IBM.
Next he was poached by a company called Fujitsu with whom he spent another ten illustrious years. Interestingly, his old colleagues from IBM got in touch with him to reopen IBM in India and Chandra found himself on a flight to Bangalore. He was in this southern Indian city for 18 months. Today IBM has more than 120,000 workers in India, he says. “We were told that was impossible to achieve but we went on to re-establish IBM and among other projects helped in the computerisation of the Indian Railways.”
Job done, back in Australia Chandra went on to set up his own company Triveni Infotech which grew from a ‘kitchen-table’ to a multi-million-dollar enterprise with over 3500 on-line clients for its proprietary database solutions, across all States in Australia. After 15 years, the CEO and Founder of Triveni retired and passed on the baton to his son, who now runs the company.
It was during his farewell party that a video was put up of the 150 people who had gone through his company and “who most probably had become permanent residents and citizens”, that something triggered in Chandra. He got interested in migration and went on to obtain a graduate certificate in Australian Migration Law Practice from Victoria University which would give him a registration with MARA (Migration Association Registration Authority). For the past ten years, Chandra has been a migration agent. However in the past one year, he has been ‘unhappy’ with the way migration in Australia is heading. This is where politics presented itself to him.
So how is one going to withstand the opposition to more immigrant intake? “The opposition comes from those political parties who have a vested interest. They are on the extreme side and they are appealing to what they think is middle class Australian and the semi-racist Australians. When I came here, Australia was just coming out of the White Australia Policy, the immigration act was written in 1958 when we were in the White Australia Policy, now none of these mainstream Australian politicians want to admit that but I am bringing it out in the open. I am happy to have a rational discussion with anyone including Pauline Hanson.”
For much of his life, Chandra has lived in the regions and says the regions want immigrants but they want the immigrants to become part of the Australian culture. “The Aussies are loving, generous people.”
Chandra’s candidacy is based on three points in his manifesto: regional growth, focus on renewable energy and harmonious integration of immigrants into this multi-heritage society.
Asked if Australia is ready for a brown politician at the Senate, Chandra laughs, saying, “One of my slogans is: put a little colour in your life.” But on a more serious note, whether ready or not, Chandra understands that one can’t argue with numbers. “I don’t know the exact numbers but I think 28 percent of all Australians were born overseas. And to pardon a pun, the complexion of society is changing, the complexion of social fabric is changing. And I am right in the front. They say pioneers get shot and I might. And if the general electorate is not ready I am prepared to have a discussion with them, I will not stand a neo-colonial mindset. If we think we are multiculturalists and have matured, it is time for Australia to wake up and forget our colonial cringe. Now is the time to embrace our current and the future and give immigrants a fair go.”
But immigrants too need to do their part, move beyond ‘puri parties’ and assimilate into mainstream society, believes Chandra.
With his deep commitment to customer service and a successful business background with over 35 years international experience in the IT industry besides being actively involved in community and business forums, Chandra is a counterweight in the political race and arena. There is wisdom and newness in his appeal.
By Indira Laisram