As Rishi Suna made history this week as Britain’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister, many in the South Asian country were quick to congratulate the new leader, with some in the media claiming him as their own.
India was once part of a British empire that spanned the globe, it was often said that the sun would never set on it. But 75 years since the end of the British Raj, many commentators in India have noted with glee how times have changed.
“The Indian son rises above the empire. History has come full circle in Britain,” said an NDTV headline.
“From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj as Sunak moves to No. 10,” said The Times Of India.
“It was India [once] under British rule. Now, a man of Indian origin has become the Prime Minister of England,” said a Zee News anchor.
Others were more candid about the symbolism behind Sunak’s naming, which was revealed during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
“Another Diwali gift to the country. White Rishis of Indian origin to rule,” said India’s largest Hindi-language newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar, which has a circulation of nearly 5 million.
For some, Sunak’s appointment is the latest in a series of events to highlight the contrasting fortunes of rising India and the recent economic woes of Britain’s former colonial ruler.
In the wake of Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, London has repeatedly looked to its former colony for a push; Pursuing a free trade agreement and issuing more visas to Indian citizens than any other country.
And now, just weeks after Britain awarded India the title of the world’s fifth largest economy, Sunak, the former finance minister, is in London looking to repair the economic carnage caused by his predecessor’s short-lived policies. , Liz Truss, markets shuddered and the pound fell.
Given Britain’s actions during the colonial period – when Indians were excluded from their country’s top jobs and banned from many institutions – it is perhaps not surprising that there is a sense of Schadenfreude.
But experts say it would be wrong to suggest this is India’s only emotion. Many in the nation of 1.3 billion see the moment as a reason to celebrate the progress of both countries, and hope Suna will act as a bridge between India and Britain, ushering in a new era of ties.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at this in a tweet welcoming Sunak’s appointment.
“The special Diwali wishes for a ‘living bridge’ of Indians in the UK as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership,” the Indian leader said on Monday.
Others see Sunak’s victory as a reflection of the growing role of people of South Asian descent in British politics.
“For a long time, the question was whether Britain was ready to have Sunak as prime minister,” said Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank.
“And it really is a huge tribute to British democracy and the role the South Asian diaspora has played in British politics.”
The relationship between Britain and India is complicated, given the history of inequality and exploitation during the colonial era.
“Some people are still upset about why Rishi Sunak’s race matters. It matters because of the imperial context,” tweeted Sathnam Sanghera, author of Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain.
Many Indians have not forgotten the chaos that followed the country’s independence in 1947 and the bloody partition that followed, in which between 500,000 and 2 million people died and about 15 million were uprooted.
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Pant said that until recently it would have been “unimaginable” that a person of Indian origin would rule Britain, but Sunak’s appointment made the current relationship “much more 21st century”. about the century rather than about the past.’ And thanks to this, both can move forward in a much more productive way.”
Underlying this more modern relationship are economic considerations, with London increasingly looking to India and its $3 trillion economy for post-Brexit opportunities.
Britain remains one of India’s biggest investors, with British companies employing around 800,000 people in the country, according to a 2017 report, and politicians in both countries expect economic ties to grow under Sunak.
Among the biggest prizes on offer is the much-anticipated free trade agreement, which aims to more than triple bilateral trade from $31 billion to $100 billion by 2030.
When the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited India in April, the two leaders agreed to sign such an agreement by Diwali. That deadline has been missed, but hope has been renewed that a deal can be revived under Sunak.
“Whether or not Suna signs the deal will be an important marker,” Pant said. “And it’s an important benchmark for how far India-UK relations are willing to go.”
While Sunak’s face is plastered across Indian newspapers and television, the mood on the ground has been harder to judge. The streets of Delhi have been quiet as Indians celebrate Diwali, the most important festival in the calendar for Hindus, who make up about 80% of the country’s population.
“It’s good to see someone whose family is originally from India and that too on Diwali, it’s like a blessing,” said Rajesh, a chemist in the Indian capital. “But that doesn’t mean things will automatically improve between India and the UK.”
For some, his appointment is nothing more than foreign news.
Arjun, a trader, said Sunak’s appointment “didn’t make a difference” for Indians. “Yes, he’s Indian but he’s still from there,” she said.
Others say the importance of Sunak’s appointment underscores the success of the Indian diaspora, especially in the UK, where about 7% of the population is of South Asian origin, according to a 2011 census.
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman also has Indian roots, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan was born into a Pakistani working-class family.
Sunak’s parents came to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s. His father was a doctor while his mother ran a pharmacy in the south of England; According to Sunak, it made him want to serve the public.
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– Source: CNN
“British Indian is what I mark on the census, we have a category for that. I am fully British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu,” he said. Suna in a 2015 interview with Business Standard.
When he was sworn into parliament in 2019, Suna held up the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book. A year later he made history when he lit the Diwali candles outside 11 Downing Street, the official residence of the UK Chancellor.
Now he is at the peak of power, which is, according to the diaspora, an indication of the success of the diaspora.
Pant, of the Observer Research Foundation, said Sunak’s appointment symbolized how people of South Asian origin had “crossed the political spectrum in the UK”, adding that Sunak would “shape the course of British politics”.
“I think there is a level of comfort that people in the Indian diaspora have in these democracies,” Pant said. “And that is a reflection of India’s greatest success on the world stage.”