NEW DELHI – In India, where Mr Rishi Sunak traces his lineage and has family ties, reaction was relatively subdued to the news on Monday that a politician of Indian origin was ascending to Britain’s highest office. The country was busy celebrating Diwali during a long weekend of festivities.
But the historical context was not lost on those who responded to the news on social media and on India’s television news: The year when India has been marking 75 years of independence from British colonial rule, a British Hindu leader of Indian ancestry was moving into No. 10 Downing St.
“Indian son rises over the empire,” said the breaking news ticker of one news channel.
“The Parliament here that would send viceroy after viceroy to India now sees someone of Indian origin coming in as prime minister,” said one Indian television reporter, speaking from outside Britain’s Parliament.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India congratulated Mr Sunak and described the Indian community in Britain as a “living bridge” with his nation.
Mr Shashi Tharoor, an opposition leader who has written extensively about the British empire’s exploitation of India, said Britain had “done something very rare in the world, to place a member of a visible minority in the most powerful office”.
“As we Indians celebrate,” Mr Tharoor, whose Indian National Congress party is a strong critic of the rising Hindu nationalism in India, said on Twitter, “let’s honestly ask: Can it happen here?”
Mr Sunak’s rise is the latest in a long list of leaders of Indian-origin who have climbed to the highest offices in politics, business and technology around the world. Britain joins about a half dozen countries, from Suriname to Guyana, whose heads of government trace their lineage to India.
Vice-President Kamala Haris and Mr Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s deputy prime minister and former prime minister, also have Indian heritage.
Mr Sunak’s Punjabi grandparents migrated to East Africa before his parents arrived in England, where he was born. His wife, Ms Akshata Murthy, has Indian citizenship and is the daughter of Mr N.R. Narayana Murthy, an Indian billionaire who founded the technology giant Infosys.
After Mr Sunak became finance minister, Ms Murthy’s “non-domiciled” tax status was a matter of prolonged debate. She eventually announced that she would pay British taxes on all of her income.
“My decision to pay UK tax on all my worldwide income will not change the fact that India remains the country of my birth, citizenship, parents’ home and place of domicile,” she said in April. “But I love the UK, too.”
Mr Sunak is also Hindu, and the news media in India covered his taking the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, a revered Hindu scripture, when he began a new term in Parliament in 2019. NYTIMES