“First British Prime Minister of color” is how the British describe Rishi Sunak. In India, he is an Indian Prime Minister of UK, married to an Indian citizen belonging to an iconic entrepreneurial family. Some describe him as the richest British PM in history and others say he is the youngest. Fashion enthusiasts describe him as a PM as close to a male model as possible. But he became the Prime Minister, defying these descriptions because no one else in the Conservative Party was found with the experience and expertise to be the savior of the UK at a time of a profound financial crisis.
Indians in India and abroad of all nationalities are justifiably jubilant about the ascent of Rishi Sunak.This is not the first time that Indian migrants or their successors have assumed leadership positions in other lands. But when it happens in the US or UK, there is a feeling of triumph that we have conquered our conquerors. Some even believe that in the case of the UK, we are finally wreaking vengeance for the Battle of Plassey, Jallianwala Bagh and the Partition. But in reality, what has happened is what has been proved again and again that western democracies are lands of opportunities and race, color, religion and even prejudices cannot stop the right person to reach the right place at the right time. Earlier, it was in Alphabet, Microsoft, Twitter and Adobe, now it is in the Governments in the US and the UK.
It was only two months ago that Sunak was defeated at the hands of the Conservative Party, who turned to him only when Liz Truss created a profound crisis in the economy by her policies. Sunak had warned against cut in taxes before the economy stabilized. Sunak has become the Prime Minister as a savior of the country as no other Conservative leader, including Boris Johnson, was found capable of handling the situation. It was a case of a consensus in the Conservative Party that Sunak alone had the experience and the wisdom to rescue the UK. This must be unique in the electoral process anywhere in the world.
Born to reasonably well-to-do immigrants, having been educated at Oxford and Stanford, Sunak was elected to the Parliament from Richmond in 2015 and was reelected in 2017 and 2019. Prime Minister Boris Johnson picked him up as the Finance Minister because of his qualifications and experience and not as a representative of a minority community. The fact that he was a devout Hindu, conversant in 'Bhagavad Gita' and celebrated Deepavali was not known even to the Hindu community in the UK. His wife’s Indian passport went against him because it was suspected that she was getting tax benefits because of her status.
Expect no India bias
Some believe that, as the British Prime Minister, Sunak will be particularly friendly to India and that he would return the Kohinoor and do similar gestures to his motherland. Such wishful thinking is not likely to materialize as he will act in the best interests of the UK and will not even appear to favor India. Even the trade agreement pending between the two countries will go through the most rigorous examination at his level. It may be recalled that he reappointed an Indian Immigrant Minister, who was the fiercest critic of illegal Indian immigrants in the UK.
Ironically, Rishi became Prime Minister when it became fashionable in India to criticize the British Raj in India and to demand compensation for the British atrocities in India. A huge amount of compensation is being claimed for the damage caused by the British colonial administration to the Indian economy, though the general principle is that such claims will not be entertained once there is an agreement on independence. The surprising fact is that some of these individuals have benefitted from the British Government in various ways. By taking a strong anti-colonialist stand, they try to hide their affinity to Britain since independence.
Sunak is not likely to answer the charge about atrocities in the colonial era or take up the idea that the British Government should pay compensation for India. Nor should we push the case in his time as it will only embarrass him. The British Queen visited and paid homage at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial during one of her visits to India.
Surprisingly, some political commentators used the Sunak election to take digs at our own democracy by saying that it is unthinkable that India will ever elect someone from a visible minority to top positions in India. Several minority leaders have occupied top positions in India and if the hint is about the Prime Minister’s post, that has also been occupied by a Sikh!
Tribute to Indian talents
Indians, particularly overseas Indians, have every reason to be proud of Sunak’s achievement and it is true that his election as the British Prime Minister has marked a pinnacle that Indian migrants have finally reached. US President Joe Biden himself saw Sunak’s election as a recognition of the special talents of Indian migrants abroad. There was the same sense when Kamala Harris became the Vice President, but she identified herself more with the black or Caribbean community rather than with India except for her love for the dosa. She has also neither covered herself with glory as the Vice President or diluted her criticism of India in her new position. Indian migrants still have problems in many host countries and that is not likely to change because of Sunak’s elevation. But we can certainly expect that brilliant Indians will get recognition anywhere they go in the free world.