Rishi Sunak becoming PM will be ‘source of pride to many British Asians’

Groups heralded the move a ‘historic moment’ that shows the highest office ‘can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds’.

Jemma Crew
Monday 24 October 2022 17:16 BST
Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak outside his home in London (Victoria Jones/PA)
Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak outside his home in London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak will become the country’s first Hindu prime minister after succeeding in his bid for the top political job.

Groups heralded the move a “historic moment” that shows the highest office “can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds”.

Mr Sunak is a practicing Hindu and takes his Commons oath on the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Sanskrit text.

He was born in 1980 in Southampton to parents of Punjabi descent. His grandparents were born in India and emigrated to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s.

It will be an historic moment if Rishi Sunak does become our first British Indian and Hindu prime minister, showing that the highest office in Britain can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds

Sunder Katwala, British Future

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “Rishi Sunak becoming the first British Indian Prime Minister is a historic moment. This simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago.

“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.”

He added: “Most people in Britain now rightly say the ethnicity and faith of the Prime Minister should not matter.

“They will judge Sunak on whether he can get a grip on the chaos in Westminster, sort out the public finances, and restore integrity to politics.

“But we should not underestimate this important social change.”

He pointed out that when Mr Sunak was born, there had been no Asian or black MPs in the post-war era.

He said Mr Sunak’s rise “does not make Britain a perfect meritocracy”, but while there is “more to do”, it is a “hopeful sign of progress against the prejudices of the past”.

The news of Mr Sunak’s victory comes during Diwali.

The religious festival is celebrated across the world and symbolises the victory of light over darkness, and good over evil.

The Hindu Forum of Britain tweeted that Mr Sunak had written to the group sharing his best wishes with those celebrating Diwali, and said they were wishing him in return “every success on this auspicious day”.

The 1928 Institute, a University of Oxford-backed British Indian think tank, said: “It is incredible to see a British Indian as PM. Many of our grandparents were British subjects and now to see someone of Indian heritage in the UK’s highest office is truly wonderful.

“It shows how our community has come a long way and will be an inspiration for the next generation, although some will still attack Rishi Sunak for his heritage.

“Breaking this glass ceiling is a major achievement but we need more diversity in our government.

“We will judge Rishi by his policies and hope that our shared values across the diaspora such as seva, particularly with regards to minority and marginalised communities, are part of his leadership.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi tweeted: “This is a historic moment… Whatever your politics this moment shows change & what is possible.”

The Runnymede Trust said: “Policies and political turmoil aside, it is a poignant and symbolic moment for a grandchild of the British Empire to accede to the highest office in the land.”‍

The race equality think tank noted that Mr Sunak has “enjoyed considerable advantages”, adding: “we trust that the new Prime Minister will strive to create fairness of opportunity so that every child in this country is capable of defining their own success, regardless of their background or circumstances.”

Krishna Halai, 27, an operations manager in tech from London, said: “I can celebrate a Hindu PM given the history of colonisation by the British in India, we are breaking barriers in politics.

“But Rishi specifically and some of the Indian/Hindu POC (people of colour) in ministerial positions I don’t feel represents me and the kind of politics our families stood for when they first came to this country.”

She will be celebrating Diwali with her family by sharing a meal and FaceTiming her relatives, including her father, in India.

When asked whether the significance of Mr Sunak becoming prime minister will also resonate in India, she said: “Yes absolutely – the UK diaspora communicate with family in India, the WhatsApp groups will buzz with photos and messages about it.

“Whether it contributes to greater UK-India relations, I don’t know, but people will see it as a big step forward.”

She added that Mr Sunak becoming PM “won’t fix the underlying structures that make it so hard for people like us to achieve these positions in the first place”.

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