NEW DELHI (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. By Krishna N. Das
Sunak was 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 as her support evaporated and Sunak was poised to formally take over as prime minister later on Monday or Tuesday.
“Unite or Die”
“It’s unite or die”, he told his lawmakers in parliament shortly after the announcement, according to one present in the room. Sunak told the party it faced an “existential crisis” and lawmakers should now focus on policy not personalities.
Britain faces serious economic challenges and needs stability and unity, Rishi Sunak said on Monday, in his first public speech after being declared leader of the governing Conservative Party and soon-to-be prime minister.
“There is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” Sunak said. “We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.”
This Diwali is very special…
Sunak’s expected rise to the premiership had already made it to the front pages of most Indian newspapers – alongside the Indian cricket team’s win over arch-rivals Pakistan in a T20 World Cup match late on Sunday.
Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, Sunak, 42, 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.
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.”
However, the handover to Britain’s new prime minister will not happen on Monday, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Liz Truss said, outlining that discussions were being held on the timing and choreography of the transition.
“I can confirm that the transition won’t be taking place today,” he said, adding there were discussions between the outgoing and incoming prime ministers and King Charles.
Like most South Africans with their expats, 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 U.S. 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 Conservatives were also celebrating his rise, with party member Ravi Kumar, 38, from Nottingham, calling it 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 think-tank British Future, 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.”
Sunak’s Wife’s Wealth…
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% 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.”
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Paul Sandle in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Toby Chopra)
South African President wishes Hindu Community a happy Diwali
Meanwhile President Cyril Ramaphosa has today wished the Hindu community of South Africa a very happy and joyous Diwali.
“As fellow South Africans, we join you in celebrating the annual Festival of Lights. Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and righteousness over unrighteousness, as enunciated in the Hindu Sacred text the Ramayana.
“The universal message of Diwali resonates with all of us. It is a message of hope, love, caring for the wellbeing of all and working together for the mutual prosperity of all,” the President said in a statement.
Diwali is a time when family and friends get together and celebrate the joy of life through prayer, lighting of lamps, festivities, food, dance and music.
One of the central messages of Diwali is the oneness of humanity and that all of life is equal and sacred.
The President highlighted that both President Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu given our wonderful diversity of religions, cultures and ethnic groups all of which enrich our beautiful country have described South Africa as the Rainbow Nation.
He noted that the Hindu Community is an integral part of South Africa’s rich multicultural tapestry.
Members of the Hindu Community have made a significant contribution to our country since the arrival of indentured Indians to South Africa in 1860.
“The community contributed immensely to our freedom struggle and are playing an important role today in nation building and the economic recovery and revitalisation of our country at a time of great challenges faced by the global community.
“The Diwali thus is a time to reflect and celebrate the joyous achievements of all in our country. Let us use the celebration of Diwali to renew and reinvigorate our commitment to work together as one family in building a just, inclusive and prosperous South Africa.
“May the blessings of Lord Rama and Mother Sita be showered upon you and your family and friends on this auspicious occasion of Diwali. My best wishes to all,” the President said. – SAnews.gov.za