Explained: Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Indian connection


It was indeed a very happy Diwali for Rishi Sunak as he scripted history by becoming Britain’s first Indian-origin prime minister. Forty-two-year-old Sunak is set to take over the top job after his rivals Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the race to replace Liz Truss as leader of the Conservative Party.

In India, the news of Sunak becoming prime minister was received with much gusto, with some saying that Sunak becoming prime minister this year was 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 Ltd.

Former Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra wrote, “@RishiSunak becoming the British PM will be a great Diwali gift for UK, & a reason for celebration in India.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Sunak on his achievement — he is the youngest person to take the office in more than 200 years — called him the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians and said that he looked forward to both of them working closely together on issues.

As UK gears up for its first Indian-origin Hindu prime minister, we take a closer look at the rise of Sunak and his ties to India.

Who exactly is Rishi Sunak?

Rishi Sunak, 42, was born in UK’s Southampton area to an Indian family of a pharmacist mother, Usha Sunak, and a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner (GP) father — Yashvir Sunak. His grandparents are from Punjab.

Reports say that like many Indians, they had migrated to seek a better life in East Africa. When trouble began in the region and there was widespread feeling against Indians, his grandfather shifted to Britain.

An Oxford University and Stanford graduate, he met his present wife, Akshata Murthy while at school. For the uninitiated, Akshata Murty is the daughter of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy.

The two tied the knot in 2009 and have two daughters Krishna and Anoushka.

An analyst with Goldman Sachs, he first became an MP in 2015. He was elected from Richmond, Yorkshire and rose through the Conservative Party ranks and backed calls for Brexit. He was one of the supporters of Boris Johnson during his ‘Leave EU’ campaign.
Sunak was barely known to the British public when Johnson made him Chancellor of the exchequer in February 2020.

However, UK’s first Hindu Chancellor of the Exchequer charmed the citizens and his popularity star shone bright.

When Boris Johnson ordered the first nationwide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, he crafted a massive financial rescue package to safeguard millions of jobs. His job retention scheme where the government paid 80 per cent of the wages of people who would otherwise be without a job won him accolades across the board. His popularity shot up and surpassed that of his boss Boris Johnson. His ‘eat out to help out’ scheme was also a huge success.

Known to be close to Johnson, Sunak has always cut a contrasting figure from the scandal-ridden outgoing prime minister in his public and private life.

While Johnson’s governing style has been described as chaotic, seemingly making policy on the hoof, Sunak is a details-oriented wonk.

Unlike Johnson’s tousled hair and dishevelled appearance, Sunak has crafted a carefully curated image on social media, with designer clothes, top-of-the-range gadgets and a photogenic dog.

Sunak is also one of the richest people in the country. With his wife, Akshata Murty, Rishi Sunak has a combined fortune of £730 million, Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ notes.

This made him the 22nd richest person in Britain in May, the Sunday Times said.

Rishi Sunak joined politics in 2015 and has seen a meteoric rise within the Conservative Party. He backed calls for Brexit and was one of the supporters of Boris Johnson during his ‘Leave EU’ campaign. AFP

Rishi Sunak's controversies

Known as ‘Dishy Rishi’ by the British tabloids, his star was on the rise and he was considered to be Johnson’s successor for several months.

However, questions over his wife, Akshata’s, tax status and wealth along with his involvement in the Partygate Scandal and criticism from fellow Tories about his moves to increase taxes for millions, transformed him to ‘Fishy Rishi’.

The couple’s finances had come under scrutiny when it was revealed that Akshata, still an Indian national, had non-domiciled status in the UK, allowing her to avoid paying tax on her foreign earnings as she planned to return to India to live.

Reports stated that her status as a non-domicile allowed her to save around £20 million in taxes on dividends from her shares in Infosys.

The outpour of outrage that followed forced Akshata to agree to pay UK taxes on her worldwide income.

Following the tax scandal, it was reported that Sunak and his wife had retained their US Green Cards after returning to Britain. While there’s nothing illegal about holding a US Green Card while being a British national, the optics of the Chancellor, one of the most senior members of the government doing it, was extremely embarrassing even for the Conservative Party.

Rishi Sunak's stock saw a decline in recent times after questions were raised about his wife, Akshata’s, tax status. AFP

What he hopes for UK-India ties

As the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak has said that he wants to change the UK-India relationship to make it a more two-way exchange that opens up easy access to UK students and companies in India.

In August this year, while addressing a gathering of British Indian Conservative Party members, Sunak had said, “We are all very aware of the opportunity for the UK to sell things and do things in India, but actually we need to look at that relationship differently because there is an enormous amount that we here in the UK can learn from India.

“I want to make sure that it’s easy for our students to also travel to India and learn, that it’s also easy for our companies and Indian companies to work together because it’s not just a one-way relationship, it’s a two-way relationship, and that’s the type of change I want to bring to that relationship,” he said.

With inputs from agencies

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Explained: Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Indian connection
Explained: Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Indian connection
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