Rishi Raj in Britain

Rishi Sunak scripted history when he was appointed by King Charles III as Britain’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister after being elected unopposed as the new leader of Conservative Party

By Geeta Singh
  • Rishi Sunak’s family migrated from Tanzania when his Indian maternal grandmother boarded a flight to build a better life in the UK in 1960s
  • Sunak is the youngest British PM in 200 years of British history and the country’s first non-white Prime Minister
  • For Rishi Sunak, the third PM this year in Britain, backbreaking decisions loom ahead as he looks to cut public spending
  • The reinstatement of Suella Braverman can be seen as a signal to the right-wingers of the party that Sunak wants to give a voice to them

As soon as 42-year-old Rishi Sunak took over as UK’s 57th Prime Minister, the moment was like Britons finding their own Barack Obama. Changes will be reflected in the history of this imperialist country. Rishi Sunak has made history by being appointed Britain’s first-ever Indian and ethnic-origin Prime Minister as well as the leader of the Conservative Party. He is also wealthier than the King and, at 42, younger than every predecessor except William Pitt the Younger.

Sunak is the youngest British PM in 200 years. It’s a spectacular moment in the UK’s history, where a child of an immigrant takes the responsibility of running a country, where the Indian population is no more than 1.5 million. Many experts believe that Rishi’s becoming the PM is just like what happened in the US in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President.

Now, Rishi as PM and leader of the Tories have a concern about uniting the Conservative Party, which is widely divided at the moment. But MPs believe Sunak will be able to unite the party and get it ready to win the 2024 election against Labour. He is also most likely to swing the Asian votes in London and other parts of the UK from Labour to Conservative

In his first address as Tory leader soon after the result was declared, Sunak said his priority would be to bring the nation together and stated he was ‘humbled and honoured to get the greatest privilege of his life to give back to the country I owe so much. “The UK is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” said Sunak, concerning the economic turmoil he is inheriting, following former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ disastrous tax-cutting mini-budget last month.

PM Sunak is magnanimous in his gesture to keep former PM Truss’s close friend Therese Coffey in his senior team of ministers. He reappointed Jeremy Hunt as his finance minister in a move designed to calm markets that had baulked at his predecessor’s debt-fuelled economic plans. Sunak kept Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Foreign Minister James Cleverly and another old face, Dominic Raab, returned to his posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister which he had held under former PM Boris Johnson. Even MPs who are Mr Sunak’s natural opponents felt an overwhelming sense of relief that the tortuous events of the last few months were drawn to a close.

CONTROVERSY OVER BRAVERMAN

When Sunak brought back Indian-origin Suella Braverman as the Home Secretary in his newly-formed Cabinet, less than a week after being fired, drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum in the country. Braverman was hell-bent upon slashing annual immigration to the “tens of thousands” from 139,000 currently and her ardent support of plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda for processing, brought down a torrent of criticism. Apart from this, Braverman had also sunk prospects of a quick signing of the India-UK free-trade deal with her outspoken opposition. Her comments claiming Indians are the worst visa “overstayers” infuriated the Indian government which was in the process of negotiating the Free-Trade Agreement.

The opposition and critics were dismayed over her reappointing after promising his government would have “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.” Former barrister Suella Braverman belongs to the harder Brexit wing of the Tory party and wants a clear break from Europe, including taking the UK out of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In her campaign video, she also references the personal history of her Mauritian mother and Goan-origin father who migrated to the UK from Kenya.
Hence, her reinstatement can be seen as a signal to the right-wingers of the party that he wants to give a voice to them by giving Suella Braverman the key job of Home Secretary.

RELATION WITH INDIA

The UK-India relations and the pending completion of the Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) will also be under focus. With the failure to complete by the deadline, many have blamed home secretary Suella Braverman’s take on immigration and lashing out at India for affecting the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Though MEA has dismissed the report, no one can deny, her comments have rocked the boat.

The Conservative Party has on several occasions spoken about “cutting immigration by tens and thousands”- the mandate that won them three consecutive general elections and Brexit. But now, due to the severe shortage of staff in most industries, people are eager to see Sunak’s take on UK immigration and his contribution to the UK-India relationship and its future.

ASIAN ROOTS

Rishi Sunak’s family migrated from Tanzania when his Indian maternal grandmother, Sraksha, boarded a flight to build a better life in the UK in the 1960s. Sunak narrated his story in a video on a very personal note when he pitched for the race to 10 Downing Street. He said, “This young woman came to Britain where she managed to find a job, but it took her nearly a year to save enough money for her husband and children to follow her. One of those children was my mother aged 15”. “

My mum studied hard to get the qualifications to become a pharmacist. She met my dad, an NHS [National Health Service] GP, and they settled in Southampton. Their story didn’t end there, but that is where my story began, he says in the voiceover, alongside family pictures of his general practitioner father Yashvir and mother Usha with him as a young boy with his siblings,” says Sunak, in the video which has been viewed more than 55,000 since its release.

EARLY DAYS

Teetotaller Rishi Sunak collects Coca-Cola things as a hobby. His school friends narrated, as he told two school pupils, before saying “I am a Coke addict, I am a total Coke addict,” then, as the pupils sniggered, clarifying “Coca-Cola addict, just for the record”.

He once tried to pay for a Coke at a petrol station but was confused by the contactless credit card system.
Sunak, along with his two siblings, was raised by a pharmacist mother and doctor father in Southampton, where he is still actively involved in the local temple work.

At the age of 11, Sunak’s life changed when he won a place at boarding school Winchester College, Hants, which costs around £43,335 a year to attend. However, when he failed to bag an expected scholarship, his parents decided to shoulder the fees themselves. It was a struggle for the family and Rishi has admitted he felt shame as a schoolboy at having to wear a second-hand uniform. But he has never attempted to conceal his public school background.

The rise of British Asians in politics reflects the success and contribution of that community. The number of British Asians is projected to increase to more than 6.9% of the population; the overall ethnic minority population in Britain is set to increase to 20%
by 2051

Rishi Sunak was one of few Asians at the 600-year-old Winchester College, but he didn’t let that hold him back. He instead became the first head boy at the school from an Indian background. Also, when in 2016 he came out in favour of Brexit, his Euroscepticism dated back to those school days. In 1997, when Tony Blair became Prime Minister, a young Rishi wrote a piece for the school magazine complaining about Blair’s plans for “membership of a European superstate”.

INDIA CONNECTION

Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty is the daughter of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy. 42 years old Akshata Murty has a 0.93 percent stake in her father’s software company worth approximately $715 million. That represents the bulk of the couple’s estimated net worth of £730 million.

The couple married in her home town of Bengaluru in 2009 and have two daughters, Krishna and Anoushka. Narayan Murthy, as described in Sudha Menon book Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters, had mixed feelings when he first heard about the man who would become his son-in-law, “I, too, was a little sad and jealous when you told us you had found your life partner,” he wrote to his daughter Akshata Murty in a letter, published in “But when I met Rishi and found him to be all that you had described him to be – brilliant, handsome, and, most importantly, honest – I understood why you let your heart be stolen”.

Last April Akshata Murty’s non-domiciled status attracted controversy. It was reported that Murty enjoyed a tax status in the UK that meant she could legally avoid paying taxes on her foreign earnings. Acknowledging the controversy, Murty said she would renounce its advantages. She expressed her views on microblogging platform Twitter, “I understand and appreciate the British sense of fairness and I do not wish my tax status to be a distraction for my husband or to affect my family. For this reason, I will no longer be claiming the remittance basis for tax.”

RISE IN POLITICS

Rishi Sunak has risen very rapidly in British politics. He won the Parliament election for the first time in 2015, at the age of 35. In just seven years, he became the Prime Minister. David Cameron achieved the same in nine years, but again, Pitt the Younger holds the overall record with just two years.

Last September, during his leadership campaign, in an interview, he emphasised that Britain is ready for an Indian-origin prime minister and his ethnicity is not a barrier. Sunak’s path to 10 Downing Street wasn’t all smooth. After losing to Liz Truss in a vote of Tory members on 5 September, he was expected to disappear from politics. Though Liz Truss, with the backing of Boris Johnson’s supporters, beat him in the race, in seven weeks, the tables have turned.

He proved hugely popular during the COVID pandemic lockdowns, when as a new Chancellor he unleashed a series of unprecedented measures to save jobs and livelihoods, that honeymoon period ended earlier this year when inflation began to bite and he took some tough tax hike calls.

TORY VOTERS HOPE

Fifty percent of voters of the UK’s ruling Conservative Party believe Rishi Sunak will make a good Prime Minister, according to the results of an opinion poll done by JL Partners. The Sunday Telegraph reports that more than 4,400 people found that 48 per cent of those who backed the Tories in the 2019 general election felt the British Indian former Chancellor would be a good Prime Minister.

The survey was conducted last July when Sunak ran for the PM post for the first time. The JL Partners poll, which also delved into the characteristics voters are seeking from a new leader, found that 19 percent of Conservative supporters and 24 percent of voters overall most wanted a truthful leader.

When Liz Truss became PM, after one month the British public think tank had surveyed the capabilities of Truss as a PM, and the most common word to describe Truss was ‘incompetent’, according to research by JL Partners. Britons also said the Ex-PM was ‘useless’, ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘clueless’.

Now, Rishi as PM and leader of the Tories have a concern about uniting the Conservative Party, which is widely divided at the moment. But MPs believe Sunak will be able to unite the party and get it ready to win the 2024 election against Labour. He is also most likely to swing the Asian votes in London and other parts of the UK from Labour to Conservative provided he can have a balanced and sensible cabinet and useful and practical policies.

The message to the Tory voters is that he represents the face of modern Britain where values of hard work and fairness override factors such as race and background. Still, many Britons believe Sunak cannot stop the Labour Party from winning the next election, but Jake Berry, the new Chair of the Conservative Party, said, “We have a proven track record of winning elections and engaging with local communities. Just two weeks back, despite the polls, we won a historic by-election in Leicester and took a seat off Labour. It shows how on the ground the message of the Conservatives is one that truly resonates with voters up and down the country.”

CHALLENGES AHEAD

For Rishi Sunak, the third PM this year in Britain, backbreaking decisions loom ahead as he looks to cut public spending. His first task will be to restore Britain’s international financial credibility after outgoing leader Truss’s plan for unfunded tax cuts and a costly energy price guarantee spooked the bond market.
Speaking outside his official Downing Street residence, Sunak praised the ambition of his predecessor Liz Truss to reignite economic growth but acknowledged mistakes had been made.

Experts believe that a major challenge for Sunak is that funds for healthcare, education and pension may be affected the most. It is anticipated that schools will run out of cash next year. The National Health Service has been under severe pressure due to a lack of funds and workers, and this winter will be a challenging one

In his first address to the nation, the new PM Rishi Sunak broke with the tradition of standing beside his family and cheering political supporters. He said, “I have been elected as leader of my party and your Prime Minister, in part to fix them, this government will be about integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level. Trust is earned and I will earn yours.”

On the political ground, he will hope to draw a battle line over Brexit, which has seen off four PMs in six years. So he needs to unify his party first before taking the country on a path to economic stability. Sunak may have no option but to raise tax rates and make spending cuts that may have unforeseen political consequences.

Currently, the UK’s economy is facing a triple whammy of slowing growth, high inflation triggered by spiralling energy prices in the wake of the Ukraine war and a budget shortfall that has eroded its financial credibility internationally.

Experts believe that a major challenge for Sunak would be to deal with post-Brexit trade issues as he also voted to exit the EU. Besides this, other biggest worries are that funds for healthcare, education and pension may be affected the most. It is anticipated that schools will run out of cash next year. The National Health Service has been under severe pressure due to a lack of funds and workers, and this winter will be a challenging one.

National Rail and Royal Mail have been on repeated strikes; at the same time, the Royal College of Nursing in its 106 years of history, is recommending an industrial action. Although Pound Sterling immediately rose against US Dollar following Sunak’s appointment, the UK is predicted to see a deep recession next year, meaning more austerity, job losses and spending cuts.

The rise of British Asians in politics reflects the success and contribution of that community. The number of British Asians is projected to increase to more than 6.9% of the population; the overall ethnic minority population in Britain is set to increase to 20% by 2051. Youngsters from minority communities should have role models to look up to. Seeing a British Asian as Prime Minister will enable young Brits from all backgrounds to see that anything is achievable in 21st-century Britain.

Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music, and society giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

seventeen − seven =