From the curious to the ridiculous: India’s obsession with Rishi Sunak

Let's take a look at the larger conversation in India around Rishi Sunak, who was sworn in as the Prime Minister of United Kingdom on Tuesday, in India

From the curious to the ridiculous: India’s obsession with Rishi Sunak

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Rishi Sunak, the son-in-law of Infosys chief Narayana Murthy, was sworn in as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister on Tuesday. The 42-year-old investment banker-turned politician is the third PM to take office in 10, Downing Street this year. 

He is the youngest and richest PM in British history. Sunak also happens to be the first Hindu PM, and his Indian lineage has been a prime subject of interest and pride for Indians. Some Indians are claiming that this is India's way of “getting back” at the British for colonising and robbing the nation for centuries – receiving Sunak’s win for a foreign nation as the “turning of the wheel of fortune”. 

The Indian political right-wing has swiftly warmed up to Sunak, who is admittedly a proud Hindu. In the days leading up to his win, a saffron-clad Sunak visited the Hindu temple ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Manor and worshipped Lord Krishna.

PM Narendra Modi and several other politicians have congratulated and extended their best wishes to Sunak.

Sunak’s win also coincided with the Hindu festival Diwali. While stepping into office, Sunak took his oath by placing his hand on the Bhagavad Gita, wore the sacred red thread ‘kalawa’, lit diyas, and performed some Hindu rituals.

Earlier he was also seen worshipping a cow, performing ‘Gau Puja’ with his wife Akshata Murthy in London. These public displays of his devotion to Hinduism have become a cause for celebration for certain Indians.

Indian singer Alisha Chinai has gone so far as to project Sunak and his wife as “modern-day Ram and Sita.”

While the right-wing has been quick to appreciate Sunak’s Indian ancestry, there appears to be some loopholes in that regard. Rishi Sunak's maternal and paternal grandfathers had both  migrated in the 1930s to Africa from Gujranwala, currently located in Pakistan. His father was born in Nairobi and mother in Tangiers. They migrated to the UK in the 1970s and Rishi was born in the Southamptons in 1980. Thus, the only real thread he holds to India is through his wife.

In fact, there have been several other Indian-origin politicians who have served as heads of state in other nations, and haven’t been celebrated or recognised half as much as Sunak.

This includes the former PM of Ireland Leo Varadkar, who’s father migrated from Mumbai to the UK in 1960s; current PM of Portugal Antonio Costa, who has direct roots in Goa; and former President of Mauritius Pravind Jagganauth, whose roots are located in Uttar Pradesh and who beats Sunak to the claim of first practising Hindu head of State of a country other than India. 

On the other side of the hype and celebration around Sunak’s win, netizens are flooding social media with memes. Ranging from his resemblance with cricketer Ashish Nehra to retrieving the Kohinoor, the internet is caught in a Sunak-induced frenzy:

There have also been plenty of clapbacks to those celebrating Sunak and deeming his win as a step towards “decolonising the coloniser”.

Beyond the memes and the fancy, some critics have also cautioned Indians of Sunak’s political beliefs and foreign policy – a clear reflection of the party he belongs to, the Conservatives. Thus, despite his skin colour or supposed ancestry, his political agenda is most likely to follow an anti-immigrant and history-first paradigm that most other White British members of his party have adopted. 

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