NRI New York attorney, MP in India has double life
An Indian MP's double life
Madhu Yaskhi has a foot in two worlds - in rural
India, where he serves as an MPand in Manhattan, where
he runs a busy law practice
Jan. 26, 2006
One in an occasional series from India by the Star's
Prithi Yelaja, on the extraordinary relationship that
binds this continent to the world's largest democracy.
Madhu Yaskhi is the only NRI, or non-resident Indian,
among the 544 MPs in India's Parliament. He also runs
a corporate and immigration law practice in New York.
HYDERABAD, India-By day, Madhu Yaskhi is the consummate
politician, attending to constituents - mostly poor
farmers - in Nizamabad, a rural riding about 160 kilometres
from here, where he is a member of Parliament for
the ruling Congress Party.
In the middle of the night, he takes calls from clients
of his busy corporate and immigration law practice
back in Manhattan.
With a foot in both worlds and what seems like a
24-hour work schedule, Yaskhi barely has time to sleep.
At 45, he is the only NRI, or non-resident Indian,
among the 544 MPs of the Lok Sabha - the House of
the People. He faced a tough fight to get elected
in 2004, starting with his own party. Some senior
Congress Party leaders opposed his candidacy, saying
that as a non-resident he had no concept of the issues
facing India. Some threatened to quit if he landed
on the ballot.
In the end, the decision to let him stand as a candidate
came from the top - from Italian-born Congress Leader
Sonia Gandhi, herself once an outsider grafted onto
Yaskhi fit perfectly the profile of the new generation
of young politicians whom Gandhi is trying to recruit,
whose interests lie in the betterment of the people
rather than lining their own pockets, a too-common
accusation in this democracy of more than 1 billion
In a crowd, Yaskhi is hard to miss. He's always surrounded
by people jostling to meet him, a bodyguard armed
with a semi-automatic rifle hovering nearby to make
sure no one gets too close.
"Coming back to India was always part of the
plan. Entering politics was not," says Yaskhi
as we drive through Hyderabad's streets on the way
to the posh Banjara Hills neighbourhood where he lives
with his physician wife, two young daughters and mother.
The Delhi University-educated Yaskhi was born in
Hyderabad and moved to the United States in 1989.
As an MP, he gets a salary considered high by Indian
standards - just under $3,800 per year - but also
enjoys perks such as unlimited railway passes and
40 free air trips a year with a companion; a daily
allowance while Parliament is in session; a constituency
allowance and office expenses; a subsidized, furnished
home in New Delhi with free utilities; and medical
and pension benefits.
Still, it doesn't compare to the comfortable lifestyle
he and his wife, an endocrinologist, enjoyed in the
"Money in life is not everything. I wanted to
give something back to my homeland," he says.
A 2003 article on the front page of The New York
Times, about the suicide of 52 farmers near Nizamabad,
changed his life. The farmers had killed themselves
because poor rainfall meant they could not harvest
enough to feed their families or pay the hefty rents
collected by landowners.
The story was an eyeopener, a stark contrast to the
constant hype about India's booming economy, says
Yaskhi, who is fluent in Hindi and Telegu as well
`India is on the cusp of great things. We're lucky
to be here to help realize them'
It stirred a long-dormant feeling that he should return
to India to try to make a difference. Moved by the
farmers' plight, he flew to India to meet with their
surviving family members, and gave each struggling
family about $260 of his own money to help compensate
for their loss of a breadwinner.
Though he didn't want publicity, his generosity made
the national news in India and caught the attention
of local Congress Party organizers, who were seeking
a candidate to run in Nizamabad, a district in central
Andhra Pradesh state that had 1.5 million registered
voters in 2004. They approached Yaskhi. His wife,
Shuchee, whom he wed in an arranged marriage in 1991,
initially was adamantly against the idea.
"I knew it would be such a huge time commitment
and would take him away from our family," she
says. "But if you want to see change in the world,
you can't always expect someone else to make the sacrifice
to see that happen."
As a latecomer to the election campaign, Yaskhi had
less than two weeks to make a splash. He campaigned
nearly day and night, with Shuchee by his side. They
travelled to the villages - the constituency is 70
per cent rural - and, no matter how unhygienic the
conditions, graciously ate and drank whatever was
offered in hospitality.
In the end, he trounced the Telegu Desham Party candidate
by a margin of 139,000 votes.
Adapting to life as an MP has been a steep learning
curve for Yaskhi. His focus has been on better health
and education, particularly for girls and women, who
in Nizamabad toil long hours in hazardous conditions
rolling tobacco for bedis - Indian cigarettes.
The workers, aged as young as 2 up to 60, tend to
suffer from respiratory problems. Yaskhi is pushing
for better health care and basic education for girls
so they have other occupational options and alternative
employment for older workers.
To fit in better, he has traded in business suits
for simple yet elegant cotton shirts. The armed bodyguard
is mainly to protect him against the Communist extremists
present in the region, he says.
His hectic schedule means he is rarely home. In addition
to travelling to his constituency, there are frequent
trips to New Delhi, where he sits on half-a-dozen
With a 10 1/2-hour time difference, he also maintains
his New York law practice - and indeed counts on it
to significantly augment his income.
Shuchee practises medicine at the Apollo Hospital,
part of a chain that is aggressively recruiting foreign
patients for what's been dubbed "medical tourism."
The couple have drivers for their cars as well as
several servants to help care for their home and children.
They have surprised New York friends who believed
they couldn't hack life in India and predicted they'd
be back in the Big Apple within a year.
That hasn't happened.
Though he misses spending time with his daughters,
Komali, 11, and Gagna, 5, Yaskhi says being involved
in shaping India's future was the right choice, and
a permanent one.
"India is on the cusp of great things,"
he says. "We're lucky to be here to help realize