‘A Diwali gift’: Indians celebrate Rishi Sunak’s rise to UK PM

Rishi Sunak is poised to formally take over from Liz Truss as the UK’s prime minister on Tuesday.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
Former finance minister Rishi Sunak, 42, is a practising Hindu and is known to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights [File: John Sibley/Reuters]

Many Indians are delighted at the prospect of Rishi Sunak becoming the first person of Indian origin to become British prime minister, just as Hindus across the world celebrate Diwali.

Sunak is set to take the top job after his rivals Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the race to replace Liz Truss as leader of the Conservative Party.

Truss quit after a month and a half in the job as her support evaporated. Sunak is poised to formally take over as prime minister on Tuesday.

Sunak’s expected rise to the premiership had already made it onto the front pages of most Indian newspapers – alongside the Indian cricket team’s win over archrivals Pakistan in a T20 World Cup match late on Sunday.

Some Indians said on social media that Sunak becoming prime minister this year would be even more special as India recently celebrated 75 years of its independence from British colonial rule.

“This [Diwali] is very special for India’s magnificent cricket victory and in all likelihood, Rishi Sunak, a person of Indian origin, a practising Hindu and our own Narayana Murthy’s son-in-law, becoming prime minister of UK,” Chennai resident D Muthukrishnan wrote on Twitter, referring to the founder of Indian software giant Infosys Ltd.

“Rishi Sunak took oath as an MP on [Hindu holy book] Bhagavad Gita. If he repeats the same for taking oath as prime minister, what a day it is for India, that too on our 75th year of independence from Britain.”

Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, is a practising Hindu and is known to celebrate the festival of lights. He has also been photographed lighting candles outside No 11 Downing Street to mark the occasion.

Indians typically take immense pride when those who trace their roots to the nation of 1.4 billion people do well abroad, including figures such as US Vice President Kamala Harris, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

Some Indians are hoping for closer British-Indian ties if Sunak does become prime minister.

“@RishiSunak becoming the British PM will be a great Diwali gift for UK, & a reason for celebration in India,” former Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra wrote on Twitter.

Sunak’s family migrated in the 1960s to Britain, which ruled India for about 200 years before the South Asian country gained independence in 1947 after a long struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi.

Some British Indian supporters of the Conservative Party were also celebrating his rise.

“Rishi is a unifying force,” Nayaz Qazi, spokesman for the Conservative Friends of India, told Al Jazeera. “He is a consummate professional. He is definitely a people’s person. He will be a driving force for the party as well as delivering for the country.”

“Rishi will put together a great, strong dynamic team and that team will overcome the challenges and obstacles, which aren’t unique to the UK,” he said. “He will make it a priority to deliver for the people of Britain.”

(Al Jazeera)

Ravi Kumar, a Conservative Party member from Nottingham, called Sunak winning the Conservative Party leadership a “watershed moment”.

“I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, and I could not even imagine a non-white prime minister in my lifetime,” he said. “I always just saw it as a white country, and we’d come in as children of immigrants, … so to see a British Indian leader is phenomenal.”

Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, also said it was a historic moment, showing the changes in British politics and public life in recent decades.

“It’s a new normal at the top of British politics and partly because of the chaos of politics at the moment,” he said.

“We have the third female prime minister, followed by the first Asian prime minister. … Rishi Sunak is actually the fifth British Asian cabinet minister in history, and there wasn’t one until 2010.”

Revelations that Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, an Indian citizen, had not been paying British tax on her foreign income through her “non-domiciled” status – available to foreign nationals who do not see Britain as their permanent home – hurt Sunak ahead of his race against Truss in the summer.

Murthy, who owns a 0.9 percent stake in Infosys, later said she would start to pay British tax on her global income.

His family wealth has proved a divisive issue for some.

“Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister isn’t a win for Asian representation,” tweeted opposition Labour lawmaker Nadia Whittome, who also has Indian roots.

“He’s a multi-millionaire who, as chancellor, cut taxes on bank profits while overseeing the biggest drop in living standards since 1956. Black, white or Asian: if you work for a living, he is not on your side.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies