Indians on social media have overwhelmingly supported Rishi Sunak’s election as the next prime minister of Britain. The Indian-origin Tory MP, who was born in the UK, not only became the youngest prime minister in British history, but also the first non-white, Hindu man of Indian descent to hold the position.
Congratulatory messages began to arrive from all states and parties as soon as it became clear that the Sunak would be the next prime minister. On Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed Sunak and expressed his desire to “work closely with him on world challenges.” Basavaraj Bommai, the chief minister of Karnataka, and business leaders praised Sunak. Bhagwant Singh Mann, the chief minister of Punjab, did likewise. Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, and Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of J&K, have also sent their best to the former British finance minister.
As a result of Sunak’s success, Indian TV outlets also became star-struck. The television news stations flashed cheery announcements like “Indian son rises over the empire,” “Battered Britain gets ‘desi’ big boss,” and others of a like nature.
The declaration had been made earlier in August, when Sunak and Liz Truss, who was then the foreign secretary, were vying for the position of prime minister, which Truss finally won. Sunak had stated in August that he wanted to improve relations between India and the UK so that they were more of a “two-way exchange that opens up easy access to UK students and companies in India.” Sunak was speaking to a group of British Indian Conservative Party members who were voting in the election.
The Conservative Party leaders have asserted that Sunak’s Indian ancestry and background as a member of an ethnic minority have no bearing on the race to succeed Boris Johnson as the Conservative Party leader and British Prime Minister, and that Britain is not a “racist” country.
This nation does not tolerate racism. For Rishi to reach this point, it demonstrates that merit is appreciated, according to veteran Tory peer Lord Dolar Popat.
On Rishi Sunak’s elevation, PM Narendra Modi said, “We Look Forward To Working Closely Together On Global Issues And Implementing Roadmap 2030.”
Sunak has also received support from groups like the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) diaspora group in north London. Sunak had used a combination of traditional welcomes, including “namaste, salaam, khem cho, and kidda,” to address the group in August. He even lapsed into Hindi, saying, “aap sab mere parivar ho (you all are my family)”.
Responding to a question about bilateral ties from CFIN co-chair Reena Ranger, Sunak had stated that “We know the UK-India relationship is important. We represent the living bridge between our two countries”.
“We are all very aware of the opportunity for the UK to sell things and do things in India, but actually we need to look at that relationship differently because there is an enormous amount that we here in the UK can learn from India.
“I want to make sure that it’s easy for our students to also travel to India and learn, that it’s also easy for our companies and Indian companies to work together because it’s not just a one-way relationship, it’s a two-way relationship, and that’s the type of change I want to bring to that relationship,” he said.
China’s Greatest Threat
The fact that Sunak openly referred to China, India’s South Asian neighbour with which it shares tense geopolitical relations, as the UK’s largest opponent may also be contributing to the Tory leader’s popularity among Indians.
Sunak had strengthened his stance earlier in August over the necessity of being “extremely forceful” in defending the UK against Beijing’s assertiveness.
“China and the Chinese Communist Party represent the biggest threat to our economic and thereby national security that this country has faced in a long time and we need to be alive to that,” he said.
“Be in no doubt, as your Prime Minister I will do whatever it takes to keep you, your families and our country safe because that’s the first duty of a Conservative Prime Minister,” he said.
India in the UK
Sunak, meanwhile, has long been supported by the Indian diaspora, which views him virtually as a rock star.
At the Dhamecha Lohana Centre in Harrow, where he spent hours mingling with hundreds of Tory members who lined up to shake his hand, Sunak had been greeted with dhol beats and loud cheers during his campaign against Truss in August.
Elderly people in the throng showered him with blessings, some gave him pats on the back, and eight-year-old Tanish Sahu took a particular photo of Sunak holding him in his arms.
A set of gold-plated deities were presented by Amita Mishra, Trustee of the Shree Jagannatha Society UK, who travelled all the way from India.
“We are working on creating a Jagannath Temple in London and this gift is a special blessing all the way from India,” said Mishra, who was accompanied by a pandit who performed a victory shloka from the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ as the deities were handed over to Sunak on stage.
Even though both Sunak and the former Chancellor are teetotallers, a British Sikh Tory member in the throng waited hours to have Sunak sign a unique bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.
Some people have misgivings about Sunak because of the way he handled the Bounce Back Loan programme that was implemented after the Covid-19 lockdowns. All doubts, however, appear to be gone in the wake of Truss’s resignation and Boris Johnson’s subsequent withdrawal from the race for prime minister.