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London, Oct 25 (UiTV/IANS) – Rishi Sunak, 42, a Conservative party politician who is of Indian descent, will be the next Prime Minister of Britain. It marks a meteoric rise in British public life, for he became a Member of Parliament only seven years ago.
Less than two months after losing the race to become the Conservative party leader and that of the UK, Rishi Sunak was on Monday set to take over the top post, becoming the first Asian Prime Minister.
It will be the first time a non-white will occupy the position of head of government in the UK — a major post in international affairs, since Britain is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as well as a constituent of the G7 — the most industrialised countries in the world.
The only other contestant in the field Penny Mordaunt dramatically withdrew her candidature only a couple of minutes before nominations closed with a tweet.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of the Conservative Parliamentary Party and the returning officer responsible for conducting leadership elections, confirmed ‘we have received only one valid nomination’. He then declared: ‘Rishi Sunak is therefore elected leader of the Conservative party.’
There was no immediate comment from Sunak. Born in Southampton to a doctor father and chemist mother, he studied at the private school Winchester College, Oxford University and Stanford University in the United States. His professional career was that of an investment banker and hedge fund manager.
He worked as a waiter at a Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurant in Southampton during his school holidays. While at university he undertook an internship with the Conservative party at its headquarters in London. He was elected a member of parliament from the rural seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015.
His first government responsibility was that of parliamentary under-secretary of state for local government. Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him for this in January 2018. Then prime minister Boris Johnson — who on Sunday night dropped out as a potential contender in the just concluded race — appointed him chief secretary to the treasury in July 2019.
Thereafter, Johnson promoted to cabinet as chancellor of the exchequer in February 2020. In July 2022, Sunak resigned from the government citing differences on policy with the prime minister, thereby hastening Johnson’s downfall.
Mordaunt was leader of the House of Commons in the outgoing government of Prime Minister Liz Truss, who was forced to quit on her 45th day in office — the shortest period any premier in the United Kingdom has served.
Sunak was expected to be granted an audience by King Charles III imminently to be formally invited to form a government. His immediate task will be to stabilise the British economy after the damage caused to it by Truss.
However, while new prime minister’s emergence was welcomed by markets and the British pound gained in strength, he will inherit a deeply divided Conservative Parliamentary Party. The ‘STOP RISHI’ MPs hailing from supporters of Johnson, Truss and Mordaunt could make life difficult for the new occupant of 10 Downing Street.
Christopher Chope, MP representing Christchurch in the county of Dorset told The Guardian newspaper: ‘We have a parliamentary party which is completely riven, and its’s ungovernable.’
Sunak’s shortcoming is his lack of experience in politics. But he also faces a problem from a section of the Conservative party who do not even consider him to be Indian or American (because he held a resident card in the US). A caller to a chat show on LBC radio station over the weekend categorically maintained, ‘Rishi Sunak isn’t British’, much to the anchor’s horror.
Sunak’s wife is Indian, Akshata Murthy, a businesswoman who is also the daughter of N.R. Narayana Murthy, one of the founders of the Bangalore-based INFOSYS software company. The couple have two daughters.
Sunak, who had thrown his hat in the ring again after Liz Truss’s sudden resignation – barely a month and a half after she had pipped him in the contest to succeed Boris Johnson, was Monday the only contestant to replace her after rival Penny Mordaunt dropped out, due to lack of necessary support.
It was another former Prime Minister Boris Johnson who gave Sunak his first major government role when he first appointed him as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2019, and as the Chancellor in 2020.
Sunak won popularity during the early weeks of the pandemic when he unveiled an extensive support plan for those unable to work during lockdown.
But the “Partygate” scandal that took down Boris Johnson also tarnished his reputation, and he became archrivals with Johnson after quitting his government earlier this year.
Sunak has remained tight-lipped on his policy plan in the last few days but he was widely seen as the more moderate of the two candidates in the last leadership contest over the summer. Compared to Liz Truss, he took a softer line on matters like Brexit and the economy, CNN reported.
Sunak warns UK faces ‘profound’ economic challenges
UK’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Rishi Sunak on Monday said that he was “humbled and honoured” to be elected leader of the Conservative Party with the support of his fellow MPs but stressed there are major economic challenges ahead.
Sunak was on Monday chosen leader of the party, and the Prime Minister, as his only challenger Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the race shortly before the deadline for nominations, due to lack of necessary support (the backing of 100 MPs). Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is considering a second stab at the job, on Sunday evening announced that he had decided not to run again.
In brief remarks as he reached the Conservative party office here to a warm welcome, Sunak, 42, who will be the first Asian-origin and non-White Prime Minister of the country, he said: “It is the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve the party I love and give back to the country I owe so much to.”
He said that the UK is a great country but faces “profound” economic challenges, and called for stability and unity.
Sunak also paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss, who had beaten him in the August-September contest to succeed Johnson but saw her government implode in just a month and a half, for her “dignified” leadership “under difficult circumstances abroad and at home”.
Sunak celebrated Diwali at 11 Downing Street
Even as they wonder whether Rishi Sunak will be able to steer the Conservatives and his country out of the “fiscal black hole” they have to contend with, British commentators haven’t missed the significance of his elevation to Britain’s highest political office on Diwali.
The timing is particularly significant in his case because Sunak will be the first practising Hindu to preside over a nation whose King is the defender of the Church of England. Sunak made history when he swore his oath to Parliament after the 2017 general elections with his hand on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, as pointed out by ‘The Guardian’.
And he was also the first occupant of No. 11, Downing Street, the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (an office that was held by the first prime minister, Sir Horace Walpole), to celebrate Diwali at the doorsteps of his then home.
Recalling that moment, which happened when Britain was in the throes of its own Covid crisis, Sunak told ‘The Times’ of London earlier this year: “It was one of my proudest moments that I was able to do that on the steps of Downing Street. It was one of my proudest moments of the job that I had for the last two years.”
Despite growing up in Britain and going to Winchester, Oxford University and then Stanford, Sunak has never glossed over his cultural roots, staying away from beef and keeping a statuette of Lord Ganesha on his work table.
“I can proudly say that I am a Hindu and being a Hindu is my identity,” he said in a media interview, adding that his faith “gives me strength, it gives me purpose. It’s part of who I am.” For Sunak, therefore, this Diwali will be special in more ways than what is obvious.
As Sunder Katwala of the British Future think tank told ‘The Guardian’, it was “an historic moment” that “simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago.”
Katwala added: “It shows that public service in the highest office in Britain can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. This will be a source of pride to many British Asians — including many who do not share Rishi Sunak’s Conservative politics.”