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Rishi Sunak’s historic journey to becoming UK’s first Prime Minister of Indian heritage

Rishi Sunak’s historic journey to becoming UK’s first Prime Minister of Indian heritage

No matter what the outcome of Thursday’s landmark general election in the UK is, Rishi Sunak‘s place in the history books as Britain’s first Prime Minister of Indian heritage is secure. The 44-year-old was undoubtedly the underdog in the election, coming at the end of a long line of Conservative Party leaders over 14 tough years that underwent some seismic shocks in the form of Brexit and then the COVID pandemic. It was in the midst of the latter that Sunak shone as Britain’s first Indian-origin Chancellor, stepping up to the seemingly impossible task of reassuring a panicked public about their finances.

However, the bond between him and his boss at the time, Boris Johnson, fell prey to the latter’s downward popularity spiral with the scandal of lockdown law-breaking party-gate scandal.

Sunak was elected Conservative Party leader on Diwali day in October 2022, when he entered 10 Downing Street as the youngest British Prime Minister in 210 years and the country’s very first non-white leader.

In his first address at the doorstep of 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, Sunak pledged to approach the country’s problems with “compassion” and “to place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda”.

However, he took charge at a particularly volatile period amid soaring inflation made worse by predecessor Liz Truss’ disastrous mini-budget. While he succeeded in his aim to bring inflation back down, the wider sense of anti-incumbency against his deeply divided party has only intensified.

In the ensuing months, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sunak worked towards clinching a free trade agreement (FTA) but the negotiations stalled in round 14 as both prepared for their respective general election cycles. “I held warm and productive discussions with Prime Minister Modi on strengthening our relationship in defence, technology and a free trade deal between our nations,” Sunak told Parliament following his first visit to India as PM for the G20 Summit in September last year. “For the record, let me declare that as is a matter of public record, I and my family are of Indian origin. My wife and her family are Indian citizens with financial interests in India,” he said, with reference to wife Akshata Murty’s shares in Infosys – the software major co-founded by her father Narayana Murthy.

Southampton-born Sunak’s parents – retired doctor Yashvir and pharmacist Usha Sunak – are of Indian descent, tracing their migration route from Kenya to the UK in the 1960s. He met his Indian wife while they were students at Stanford University and went on to be elected Member of Parliament from the Tory stronghold of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015.

The former hedge fund expert embraced politics and quickly rose the party ranks from junior ministerial posts to Chancellor of the Exchequer and launched a spirited #Ready4Rishi leadership campaign back in July 2022.

“Rishi and I met when we were 24 when we were both studying abroad in America. Right from the very beginning, I was struck by two things about him… his deep love for his home, the United Kingdom, and his sincere desire to ensure as many people as possible have a chance to have the opportunities he was lucky enough to have had. It completely energised him. Being with Rishi was the easiest decision of my life,” Akshata Murty told the Conservative Party conference last October, making her debut on the political stage.

This strong family spirit was on display last weekend when the devout Hindu couple paid a visit to the iconic BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, north London.

“It is dharma which guides me in my approach to public service,” stated Sunak, adding that while he’s proud to be the first British Indian Prime Minister, he is “even prouder that it is not a big deal”.

“The events of the last few days should not make us forget that the United Kingdom is the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy and we should all be uplifted by that,” he said, amid applause.

He was referring to the racist attack on the election campaign trail by a far-right Reform UK activist, which he had emotionally rebutted earlier saying “It hurts, and it makes me angry” when called a “Paki”.

“I don’t repeat those words lightly. I do so deliberately because this is too important not to call out clearly for what it is,” he said.

But has consistently maintained that “never let anyone tell you that this is a racist country. It is not.”

“My story is a British story. A story about how a family can go from arriving here with little to Downing Street in three generations,” he said in his conference address last year.

Now, having celebrated a few Diwalis lighting diyas and decorating rangolis on the most famous street in the UK, Sunak has hit a new milestone in his political career. His decision to call a snap summer election triggered the scandal of Tory candidates betting over this earlier-than-expected date sometime in the autumn.

Sunak’s gamble to reveal July 4 as the election date while getting drenched on the steps of Downing Street without an umbrella was perhaps never going to be a safe bet, given all opinion polls widely predicting a landslide in favour of the Opposition Labour Party.