Sunak, a practicing Hindu of Indian origin, will be the first person of color to hold Britain’s highest office, and his victory as Conservative Party leader on Monday, coinciding with the Diwali festival, marked a moment of jubilation among many of Britain with South Asian heritage.
Sunak’s rise to the highest post is particularly significant in a country that has at times struggled to come to terms with the legacy of its colonialist past. Britain ruled India for nearly a century, from 1858 to 1947, and today’s UK is filled with the children and grandchildren of immigrants from the old kingdom.
In Southall, an area of west London sometimes called Little India for its large diaspora, people in the streets celebrated Sunak – even though many locals support the opposition Labor Party.
“If Rishi Sunak ever dreamed he would be prime minister on Diwali, well, you couldn’t bet on that. What a wonderful thing,” said Davinderpal Singh Kooner, 67, a dental surgeon, who spoke outside a temple as young children lit candles behind him.
‘It’s a unique moment to have an Asian prime minister,’ he said – pausing for the fireworks that erupted in a bright red display above his head – ‘it’ is a pivotal moment in the politics of this country.”
Hardeep Marwa, 45, a National Health Service technician, said his friends referred to Sunak’s victory as “an Obama moment.”
“It opens the door for South Asians to enter politics,” Marwa said.
Others in Britain weren’t as festive – for the fact was that members of the public in this race were just spectators, with no role to play, as Conservative Party lawmakers in the House of Commons have concluded, based on the votes of 357 members, that Sunak was their savior.
In a brief televised address, his first as a Tory leader, Sunak paid tribute to the “dignity and grace” of outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss – whose six-week term has been an unprecedented disaster – and warned that Britain faced a “deep economic challenge. In these few words, the sunny predictions of a post-Brexit ‘global Britain’, previously sold by Sunak and his predecessors, have begun to be anchored in new realities.
Sunak vowed to serve with “integrity and humility” – the qualities he said were lacking when he resigned from Boris Johnson’s government and led a revolt against his former boss. He called for “stability and unity” – in other words, the opposite of the tumult and divisions that have characterized Truss’ tenure.
Opposition politicians don’t seem to be leaving much wiggle room for a honeymoon period. On Monday, they continued their calls for a general election. Labor lawmaker Angela Rayner complained that Sunak’s membership was a crowning achievement and that the Tories could not ‘keep handing out prime ministers every month’. union leader Keir Starmer charged that Sunak was “covered in the mess” that 12 years of conservative rule had created.
Sunak is a centre-right moderate who promises to chart a cautious course to balance Britain’s books and deal with its sky-high debt, which is partly the result of his own borrowing. Sunak wrote big checks as chancellor under Johnson during the pandemic. He asked the government to cover up to 80% of the wages of millions of furloughed British workers – one of the most generous pandemic grants in the world. He also promoted a month of subsidized meals in August 2020, dubbed ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ or ‘Rishi’s Dishes’, designed to bring Brits back to restaurants.
Pandemic-related bills around the world are now coming due. And Britain’s predicament has been made worse by Truss’ plan to cut taxes on the wealthy and businesses and double borrowing, in hopes of increased supply growth.
Even after Truss gutted his plan and announced his resignation, the country’s top stock market index, the FTSE 100, is in trouble. The pound took a beating and is trading with the dollar at $1.13. The Bank of England predicts a recession for Britain in the coming months. Inflation peaked at 10.1%, a 40-year high, as the cost of living soared due to rising energy and food costs, in part due to the war in ukraine.
Ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Britain’s economic outlook from “stable” to “negative” on Friday, citing “increased unpredictability in policy-making in a volatile domestic political landscape” and “the risk of ‘more persistent inflation’.
Once impassive Britain has become something of a global laughingstock, a northern European version of Italy, with its constant change of leadership and leadership as the allies demand: Who has the keys to this car?
Johnson considered a return to the driver’s seat, mounting a bid that fell through on Sunday. He said he had enough support to take a vote among Conservative Party lawmakers on Monday – a claim that was not reflected in the tallies of lawmakers reported by the BBC and the Guardian. Johnson said: “I think I have a lot to offer, but I’m afraid it’s just not the right time.”
Darkhorse challenger Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative leader in the House of Commons, withdrew on Monday just before the deadline to secure endorsements. “Clearly our colleagues believe we needed certainty today,” Mordaunt said in a post. posted on Twitter. “This decision is historic and shows, once again, the diversity and talent of our party. Rishi has my full support.
There has never been a prime minister like Sunak. Many in India and its diaspora hailed this milestone in British politics as a testament to the country’s multiculturalism – contrasting with a history of colonialism and racism.
In India, the development took on added significance, especially among nationalists who celebrated the prospect of an Indian-born politician – and an observant Hindu – taking the reins of a former colonial power that once ruled their country. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent his congratulations to Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of the Indians of the United Kingdom” and expressing the hope that together they will “transform our historic ties into a modern partnership”.
In Britain, Sunak’s legacy was celebrated as “going against deeply racial hierarchies”, said Avinash Paliwal, senior lecturer in diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies. But in India, he added, “it will be celebrated and fuel the popular narrative of India’s rising global power – even Hindu.”
Anuj Dhar, a Delhi-based author who has written about Indian freedom fighters, hailed the “incredible feat” that a person of Indian descent would lead Britain. And Priti Gandhi, a leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party, said she applauded “with great joy” the rise of a “proud Hindu who publicly acknowledges and respects his culture and roots “.
Moving to Downing Street will be a resignation for Sunak. He is one of the richest people in Britain. Sunak, a former banker, and his wife, Indian tech heiress Akshata Murty, have an estimated fortune of around $827 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. On the same list, published before the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch was estimated to be worth around $420 million.
The couple’s money comes mainly from Murty’s stake in his father’s company, Infosys, which also employs thousands of workers in Britain.
Earlier this year, Sunak’s wife was at the center of a tax scandal after it emerged she had declared in the UK as a ‘non-domiciled’ resident, which allowed her to to avoid paying UK tax on the substantial income she has earned overseas. .
Sunak was asked about his wealth during the last leadership contest. He denied that being rich made him out of touch. “I tend not to judge people by how much they have in their bank account, I judge them by their worth and their actions,” he said.