NEW DELHI – Many Indians are delighted at the prospect of Rishi Sunak becoming the first person of Indian origin to become British prime minister on Monday, just as Hindus across the world celebrate Diwali or Deepavali.
Mr Sunak was set to take the top job after his rivals Mr Boris Johnson and Ms Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the race to replace Ms Liz Truss as leader of the Conservative Party. Ms Truss quit after a month and a half as her support evaporated and Mr Sunak was poised to formally take over as prime minister later on Monday or Tuesday.
Mr 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.
Some Indians said on social media that Mr 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.
“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.”
Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, Mr 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.
Indians typically take immense pride when those who trace their roots to the nation of 1.4 billion people do well abroad.
These include figures such as United States Vice-President Kamala Harris, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
Some Indians are hoping for closer British-Indian ties if Mr Sunak does become prime minister.
“@RishiSunak becoming the British PM will be a great Diwali gift for UK, and a reason for celebration in India,” former Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra wrote on Twitter.
Mr 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.
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.”
Mr 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.”
Revelations that Mr 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 Mr Sunak ahead of his race against Ms Truss in the summer.
Ms Murthy, who owns a 0.9 per cent 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.” REUTERS