On October 25, 2022, the new leader of the British ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak, officially took office as prime minister. Sunak is the first Prime Minister of Indian origin in British history. Sura Braverman, who is also of Indian origin, was reappointed as Home Secretary after resigning from the cabinet of then Prime Minister Truss on October 19. Britain’s colonial history and other reasons have led to the increasingly diverse composition of its domestic ethnic groups, and Indians have participated in politics in the country for more than a hundred years. However, the UK still lacks attention to its own systemic and structural racism and economic inequality. The rise of the Sunaks certainly reflects a positive progress, but it may not be a victory for the country’s ethnic diversity.
Indian-British Rishi Sunak
British Indians refer to Indians who immigrated to the UK and their descendants. According to the latest data from the British government, more than 1.4 million Indian residents will live in the UK in 2021. This group is also the largest ethnic minority group in the UK, accounting for about 2.5% of the total population of the UK. The UK is also the sixth country with the largest number of Indians living abroad after the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Nepal. Most Indians living in the UK come from the states of Punjab and Gujarat in northwestern India.
Despite his Indian background, Sunak had a very British upbringing. Born in the southern British city of Southampton in 1980, he has never lived in India or in overseas Indian communities. Sunak’s grandparents were from the Punjab state of British India before India’s independence, and they moved to East Africa in the 1930s to live and work as clerical workers in the British colonial government there. Thirty years later, East African countries got rid of British colonial rule one after another, and a large number of Indians chose to immigrate again. At this time, Sunak’s grandparents chose to come to the UK.
Sunak’s parents are registered general practitioners and pharmacists respectively, and they provided him with a high-quality “British elite” education. With the full support of his parents, Sunak successfully entered Winchester College, one of the nine major public schools in the UK, to receive elite education, and initially established a “circle of friends in the upper class”. Later, Sunak entered Oxford University, known as the cradle of politicians, to study politics, philosophy and economics, and went to Stanford University in the United States to study for a master of business administration (MBA). While studying at Stanford, Sunak met his future wife, Akshata Murthy, whom they married in 2009. Akshatta’s father is Narayana Murthy, one of the founders of Infosys, India’s second largest information technology (IT) company.
The cycle of history?
Sunak’s victory may be the biggest achievement of Indian descent in world politics so far. In addition to Sunak, there are currently six national leaders with Indian background in the world, namely the current US Vice President Kamala Harris, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Guyana President Irfan Ali, Former Prime Minister of Mauritius Anerood Jugnauth and current Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, President of Suriname Desi Delano Bouterse. Some British Indian scholars said that after Sunak became the British Prime Minister, his ethnic background and belief in Hinduism will definitely be publicized in India and become part of the narrative that “India has become a global power.”
Sunak After taking office as prime minister, remarks similar to “Britain has colonized India for nearly 200 years, and now it is the turn of the country to be led by descendants of former colonies” became popular tweets on social media Twitter. However, historians believe that his election was not caused by “historical reincarnation”. Oja, a professor of history at the University of Delhi in India, said: “It is predictable that Indians will become British leaders at a certain point in time, but this conclusion comes from research on demographic conditions. Indians are wealthy and influential in the UK. Therefore, it is bound to play an important role in local politics.” Oja believes that Sunak’s election benefited from being in the right place at the right time. When he ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party, there was no other suitable candidate in the party People, “If he governs smoothly during his tenure, it will be a victory for him and other British minorities; but if it does not go well, it will also be considered a failure of the British multicultural policy.”
On November 13, 2022, British Prime Minister Sunak talked to the media on the plane heading to Bali to attend the G20 summit.
But there are also views that there is no need to overemphasize the significance of this to the diversity of British ethnic groups. For example, Ashok Malik, a former senior adviser to the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, believes that Sunak’s staged success is only the success of a more influential group in India’s huge overseas immigrant group. Katwala, director of the British think tank “Britain’s Future”, believes that Sunak is different from former US President Barack Obama. He hardly used ethnic background as a campaign hotspot. His success means more about the normality of ethnic diversity in British politics. , is an “accidental achievement”.
“Focus on immigration”
Sunak may not have a great impact on British Indians and other ethnic minorities during his tenure. Britain’s first Muslim cabinet minister, Saida Warsi, said that while Sunak’s victory was a visible victory for ethnic diversity, he had to go beyond this visual victory. Catwala also said that Sunak’s achievements were unimaginable ten years ago, but Britain’s struggle to eliminate ethnic barriers is far from over.
In fact, Sunak, who came from an immigrant family, used the main campaign slogan before taking office to “focus on immigration.” At a public event of the Conservative Party in July 2022, Sunak said that he would strengthen the control of foreign immigration to the UK, and listed including strengthening coastguard patrols, limiting the number of refugees accepted and suspending immigration to countries that do not accept deportation. Ten programs targeting illegal immigration, including aid from In Sunak’s view, the UK’s border management is in a state of collapse, and the UK’s current immigration policy is even more “fragmented”. For now, Sunak still advocates keeping the plan to deport illegal immigrants to Rwanda, which was proposed by former Prime Minister Johnson with the support of the right wing, but failed to be implemented due to the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights.
In addition, the biggest controversy since Sunak formed the cabinet was the announcement that Sura Braverman would once again serve as Home Secretary. The British media believed that this was Sunak’s “first mistake”. On October 19, 2022, Braverman was forced to resign due to violation of relevant information security regulations. At the same time, she has a clear anti-immigration stance, advocates reducing the number of international students, and restricting the issuance of work visas for international students after graduation. She has publicly expressed her concerns about the relaxation of visas for India in the UK, because in the UK, “the largest number of visa overstayers are Indians.” The British “Guardian” and Sky News both believe that Braverman’s reappointment as Home Secretary by Sunak may indicate that the Sunak government will take a tough line on immigration issues. The Times quoted sources as saying that reiterating the immigration pledge was a condition of Braverman’s support for Sunak, and her re-election was seen as a confirmation that Sunak would not allow the current Chancellor Hunt to increase immigration to stimulate economic growth. measure.
Sunak is the second prime minister ushered in in the UK in just seven weeks since former Prime Minister Johnson resigned. Such a high frequency of regime change reflects that the UK is in a period of historic turmoil. At present, the Sunak government not only has to face problems such as soaring food and energy prices in the UK, economic recession, high inflation rate, increased public strikes and public service crisis, but also to appease the government issued by the previous Prime Minister Truss during his administration. The market turmoil caused by the “mini-budget” bill. In this context, if Sunak fails to stop the suppression of the rights of minority groups in the UK in time, it may exacerbate the problem of social tearing in the country.