Rishi Sunak does both UK and India proud

British political system has demonstrated that, in the end, only competence matters

Published : 27 Oct 2022 09:02 PM

On the night of Diwali, the festival of lights, celebrated all over India and in many parts of the world, a man of Indian origin, Rishi Sunak, became the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister-elect. On the following day, after meeting King Charles, he was appointed Prime Minister.

He is not only the first person of Indian origin, but also the first Hindu and the first person of colour to hold this exalted office. What is more, at only 42, he is also the youngest British Prime Minister in over a 100 years.

Sunak, as his critics have complained, came to occupy this high office without a contest or a vote. His only remaining rival Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the race. Earlier, Boris Johnson, former PM, also declined to go through with another battle for the position he lost somewhat ignominiously after the “partygate” scandal.

Liz Truss, who pipped him in the fight in the summer by winning more votes from members of the Conservative Party, resigned after serving for only 44 days, the shortest term for any UK prime minister. In his acceptance speech, Sunak graciously acknowledged his predecessor and pledged to serve United Kingdom, his country, with humility and integrity, working day in and day out. He promised to build a better future for the coming generations. 

Earlier he also praised Johnson for delivering “Brexit and the great vaccine roll-out,” leading UK “through some of the toughest challenges we have ever faced.”

The announcement of Sunak’s becoming the prime minister-elect was greeted with good cheer by the ailing UK economy. Both the stock market and the pound responded positively to the news, the latter appreciating by over 1% during the day against the US dollar.

Although the Conservative Party is divided and at a low ebb as far as its popularity is concerned, it devolves upon Sunak to raise its electoral prospects before January 2025, when the next general elections are due. Were the country to go to the polls today, most observers believe that the ruling party would be voted out rather unceremoniously.

After the relief, even euphoria, over his appointment dies down, Sunak will have his work cut out for him. Especially the 40 billion pound “black hole” in the economy, with a tough winter coming up. Increasing taxes will be hugely unpopular. Other revenue-raising measures at his command are limited.

Sunak, as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, knows this only too well. But seen as competent, highly intelligent, and utterly dedicated, he is expected to deliver. A man of sterling character, Sunak is also considered fair-minded and a people-friendly leader, although wealthy, successful, and endowed with an elite education.

For us in India, this is a historic moment. India was conquered, colonised, and ruled by Britain for nearly 200 years. For a person of Indian origin, also a practising Hindu, to be the Prime Minister of United Kingdom is a moment of decisive and definitive decolonization.

Sunak’s parents arrived in UK via East Africa, a post-colonial route of reverse displacement and diaspora. His wife, Akshata Murty, whom he met when both were students at Stanford University, is the daughter of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy and his writer wife, Sudha Murthy.When the contest for Britain’s top office was underway earlier in the year, many Indians complained of continuing racism in the UK. They were quick to crow, “we told you so,” when Liz Truss defeated Sunak.

Is this India’s moment, with Narendra Modi as a strong and popular Prime Minister at home, and great leaders abroad, especially in UK and US?

-An Asian, a man of colour, a “brown” man, and a Hindu to boot as a British Prime Minister? Impossible, they said. They have all been proven wrong. What is even more significant is that he is the leader of not the Labour, but the Conservative and Unionist Party.

The British political system has demonstrated that, in the end, it is not the colour of skin, gender, or ethnic origin that have proved most important—it is competence, trust, integrity, professionalism, and popularity.

Indians have had minorities, whether religious or ethnic, occupying the highest offices of the land. But for the United Kingdom, an overwhelmingly Christian country, this is a giant step forward. For them to entrust the reigns of their country to a non-Christian is a breakthrough from identity politics and a great affirmation of the success of British multiculturalism.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Kamala Harris, another leader of Indian origin, is already the Vice-President of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States. Were the President, Joe Biden, to be incapacitated for whatever reason, she will have to step into lead America.

Is this India’s moment, with Narendra Modi as a strong and popular Prime Minister at home, and great leaders abroad, especially in UK and US?

This is, without question, a great Diwali gift for both India and the UK. We can hope for better ties between the two countries. Yet, we must remember that Sunak will be British first and last, dedicated to his own country’s interests.

There was no trace of the colonial cringe in his brief acceptance speech. It is time that we in India shed our own colonial baggage too, especially in this 75th year of our independence.

Makarand R. Paranjape is a Professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. 

Views are personal. 

Source: Gulf News