Rishi Sunak’s rise? Like UK-India relations

Wed October 26, 2022

Many in the South Asian nation were quick to congratulate Rishi Sunak on becoming Britain’s first prime minister of Indian heritage this week. Some in the media even claimed that he was their own.

India was previously a part of the British Empire, which covered such a large area of the world that it was frequently stated the sun would never set there. But many Indian pundits were glad to point out how things have changed in the 75 years since the British Raj came to an end.

“Indian son takes the empire by storm. In Britain, history has come full circle, according to an NDTV headline.

The Times Of India roared, “From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj as Sunak jumps into No. 10.”

India was formerly governed by the British. The Prime Minister of England is now a guy of Indian descent, according to a Zee News anchor.

Others were more direct when discussing what they perceived to be the symbolism of Sunak’s nomination, which was announced on the Hindu festival of lights known as Diwali.

“Another Diwali present for the nation. The leading Hindi-language daily in India, Dainik Bhaskar, which has a circulation of close to 5 million, declared that Indian-origin Rishi would govern the whites.

Trading places

Sunak’s appointment is merely the most recent in a string of occasions that, in the eyes of some, underscore the divergent fortunes of an emerging India and the recent economic difficulties of Britain, its erstwhile colonial ruler.

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, London has frequently turned to its former colony for support, courting it in an effort to strike a free-trade agreement and issuing more visas to Indian nationals than any other nation.

And now, just a few weeks after losing the ranking of fifth-largest economy in the world to India, London is looking to the former finance minister Sunak in an effort to repair the economic havoc caused by the policies of his brief predecessor, Liz Truss, who shook markets and caused the pound to crash.

It’s maybe not surprising that there might be a sense of Schadenfreude given Britain’s conduct during the colonial era, when Indians were forbidden from various institutions and restricted from top posts in their own country.

However, experts disagree with the notion that this is India’s only emotion. Many in the 1.3 billion-person country view the occasion as a cause to celebrate advancement in both nations and believe Sunak may serve as a mediator by ushering in a new era of relations.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, made this implication in a tweet congratulating Sunak on his appointment.

The Indian leader tweeted on Monday, “Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians, as we transform our historic links into a modern relationship.”

Others saw Sunak’s victory as evidence of South Asians playing a larger role in British politics.

According to Harsh V. Pant, vice president of research and international policy at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, “the question of whether Britain was ready for Sunak to be Prime Minister was asked for a very long period.”

“And the fact that he is really doing so today is a huge testament to British democracy and the part the South Asian diaspora has played in British politics,” the author continues.

Moving relations forward

The history of inequity and exploitation throughout the colonial era complicates the connection between Britain and India.

“Some still don’t understand why Rishi Sunak’s race matters. The imperial setting is significant, as Sathnam Sanghera, author of “Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain,” noted on Twitter.

Many Indians are still aware of the upheaval that followed the nation’s independence in 1947 and the deadly partition that followed, which resulted in an estimated 15 million people being uprooted and between 500,000 and 2 million deaths.

Sunak’s selection is the most recent piece of proof that the relationship today is “far more about the 21st century than about the past,” according to Pant, who claimed that it had previously been “unimaginable” for a person of Indian descent to lead Britain. And that has made it possible for both to move forward in a much more effective way.

This more recent relationship is driven mostly by economic factors, with London increasingly looking to India and its $3 trillion economy for prospects in the post-Brexit period.

According to a 2017 report, British companies employ close to 800,000 people in India, making them one of the major investors there. Politicians from both nations anticipate stronger economic connections under Sunak.

A widely anticipated free-trade pact, which aims to more than triple bilateral trade from $31 billion to $100 billion by 2030, is one of the largest prizes up for grabs.

The two leaders decided to sign the agreement by Diwali during the April visit of then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India. Although that deadline has passed, there is new optimism that a deal can be revived under Sunak.

An significant test will be whether Sunak signs the agreement, according to Pant. And it serves as a significant yardstick for the advancement of relations between India and the UK.

What it means for Indians in India, and in the UK

While Sunak’s image has been prominently displayed in Indian publications and on television, it has been more difficult to gauge the atmosphere locally. As Hindus, who make up nearly 80% of the population of India, celebrated Diwali, the most significant holiday on the calendar, the streets of Delhi were silent.

Rajesh, a chemist in the Indian capital, said: “It is fantastic to see someone whose family is originally from India hold the top job and that too on Diwali, which is like a blessing.” But that doesn’t automatically indicate that relations between India and the UK will get better.

His appointment is only a foreign news story to some people.

Sunak’s appointment, according to shopkeeper Arjun, “didn’t make a difference” to Indians. He admitted that although he was Indian, he was still a native of the area.

Others claim that Sunak’s nomination is significant because it highlights the success of the Indian diaspora, notably in the UK, where, according to a 2011 census, around 7% of the population is of South Asian descent.

Suella Braverman, the British home secretary, is also of Indian descent, while Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, was raised by working-class Pakistani parents.

In the 1960s, Sunak’s parents immigrated to Britain from East Africa. In southern England, his mother owned a pharmacy while his father practiced medicine, which, according to Sunak, fueled his drive to help people.

“I checked the box for British Indian on the census; there is a category for it. I am wholly British; this is my home and my country; nevertheless, my wife is Indian, and my religious and cultural ancestry is Indian. In a 2015 interview with Business Standard, Sunak stated, “I am open about being a Hindu.

Sunak held the Hindu holy text, the Bhagavad Gita, as he took the parliamentary oath in 2019. When he lit Diwali candles outside 11 Downing Street, the UK chancellor’s official residence, he made history the next year.

According to observers, the fact that he is at the height of his authority represents the success of the diaspora.

Sunak “will determine the political trajectory” of Britain, according to Pant from the Observer Research Foundation, who also claimed Sunak’s nomination illustrates how people of South Asian heritage have “cut across political parties in the UK.”

People from the Indian diaspora seem to feel at ease in these democracies, according to Pant. And that “reflects the greatest triumph of India worldwide.”

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