At the age of 42, Rishi Sunak will become the youngest British prime minister in history and the first to have Indian ancestry.
With Rishi Sunak about to become the first British prime minister of Indian descent, much attention in India will be focused on whether or not he can salvage a bilateral trade pact that has hit rocky waters in recent days due to concerns like migration.
Adding to the political upheaval that has defined British politics this year, Sunak, 42, will be the first person of colour to become Prime Minister and the third leader of the governing Conservative Party in less than two months. Next to David Cameron, who became prime minister at the age of 43, he will be one of the youngest British leaders in history.
His wife, AkshataMurty, is the daughter of Infosys’s founder, NR Narayana Murthy, albeit he himself was born in Britain to parents of Indian descent. After his main challenger, Penny Mordaunt, dropped out of the race on Monday, he took off and is now in a commanding position to become Prime Minister.
Sunak was one of the Tory leaders that spearheaded the rebellion against former prime minister Boris Johnson, but he lost the leadership race to Liz Truss in September. On Monday, he emerged as the frontrunner for the position, which drew widespread attention on social media in India and the UK. Some members of the Indian and South Asian diaspora used his rise to power to highlight the radical social transformations that have taken place in Britain in the short 75 years since India gained its independence from the British Empire. Some have joked that the first thing Sunak should do as prime minister is make October 24th, the day on which the Hindu festival of lights, a public holiday in Britain.
World leaders, including the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, hailed Sunak. He tweeted, “Warmest congrats @RishiSunak! When you take over as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I look forward to working closely with you on international problems and the implementation of Roadmap 2030. A very happy Diwali to the ‘living bridge’ of Indians in the UK as we work to forge a new and prosperous alliance based on our shared history and values.
Sunak, the former finance minister in the administration of Boris Johnson, has the attention of the Indian people since the two countries are in the midst of the last stages of contentious talks for a free trade agreement. The talks ran into trouble when Suella Braverman, another former home secretary of Indian descent, voiced concerns that the trade pact would encourage immigration to the UK and run counter to the aspirations of Britain exiting the European Union (EU).
The Indian side was not pleased by Braverman’s remarks, which underscored the Conservative Party’s own disagreements over how to reconcile its vow to curb immigration in the wake of Brexit with the need to permit the movement of abroad professionals and students. The UK and India had originally planned to sign the FTA by Diwali, but it now seems unlikely that they will do so until sometime in 2023 at the earliest.
Sunak will have to mend relations with India and maintain the execution of Roadmap 2030, which calls for increased ties between the two countries across a wide range of policy domains, including political cooperation, defence and security, commerce, climate change, and health.
Sunak’s status in British politics was harmed earlier this year when it was revealed that his wife had failed to pay British taxes on money earned abroad. In 2021, AkshataMurty will have collected £11.6 million in dividends on her £700 million worth of Infosys shares. However, once the issue was brought up by Sunak’s political opponents, she chose to pay the taxes since many people in the UK “do not believe it is consistent” with her husband’s prior post as finance minister.