‘Not an Indian Success Story’: Editorials Say Celebrations Over Sunak’s Rise Will Have to Wait


Several English newspaper editorials in India devoted a section to Sunak, some appreciating the challenge of his role and noting his connection to the subcontinent and absolutely all observing the contrast between the UK PM’s background and his politics.

New Delhi: Many in the Indian subcontinent expressed delight since news broke that Rishi Sunak was going to become the British prime minister. He is the first person whose roots go back to the Indian subcontinent, the first Hindu and the first person of colour to assume the post.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a tweet, called him a bridge between the two countries, India and the UK, some critics wondered if Sunak’s fate could be repeated in India, where minorities appear a long way from taking on the top post.

Sunak’s first day on the job, his rise to power and the days preceding it nonetheless made it to the front pages of most Indian newspapers.

Several English newspaper editorials in India devoted a section to Sunak, some appreciating the challenge of his role and noting his connection to the subcontinent and absolutely all observing the contrast between Sunak’s background and his politics.

In Pakistan, within the present day borders of which Sunak’s family has its roots, newspaper editorials struck a similar chord, with DAWN clearly noting that Sunak’s elevation is in no way indicative of the fact that “the UK is now a post-racial society.”

‘Celebrations will have to wait’

HT noted that the Sunak family’s roots lie in undivided India and that he is married to the daughter of Infosys-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy’s daughter Akshata.

But here’s why it said celebrations would have to wait in India: “Sunak, the UK’s third PM in a month-and-a-half, faces tough economic and political challenges.”

Also read: A Looming Recession, High Inflation and Strikes Face the UK’s New Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Beyond economic challenges, the editorial also mentions ground truths about Sunak’s political role as a Conservative – he is a Brexiter who supports a stronger immigration policy.

‘Roots incidental, job enormous’

“The UK has just got its third prime minister in three months and its fifth in just over six years,” the Times of India editorial says, mincing no words on the state of things after Boris Johnson and Liz Truss departed as ‘stars of this shabby soap opera.’

Like HT, TOI spends time observing the task at Sunak’s hands, with Britain’s productivity growth and wage growth having slowed in an unparalleled way.

What landed Sunak the job, TOI asks.

“That he is a brown-skinned PIO is important symbolically, but equally important is that his party MPs selected him because they thought he’s a non-ideologue and steady pair of hands. Despite the ‘Fishy Rishi’ and ‘Rishi Rich’ critiques in the UK popular press, it’s perhaps the appearance of predictability and pragmatism, as much as the underwhelming alternatives, that got him the job.”

The editorial also ponders the future of the India-UK Free Trade Agreement and the opposition to it in the UK.

“And if Sunak bravely stands up to those being myopic about overseas skills supply, his ‘Indian’ roots may come under scrutiny of right-wing British critics. It won’t be surprising, therefore, if Sunak goes easy on the FTA,” it notes.

FILE PHOTO: Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak, his wife Akshata Murthy and their daughters Anoushka and Krishna attend a Conservative Party leadership campaign event in Grantham, Britain, July 23, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

‘No underdog’

Observing the history of Sunak’s rise to power and the dissonance struck by his life and the politics of the Conservative party to which he belongs, Indian Express observes:

“Part of the challenge that stares at him is also made of this: Sunak is a product of the very forces that stand in opposition to the post-Brexit Conservative Party – globalisation, diversity in language, religion, culture, and immigration.”

IE calls his appointment historic but recognises that Sunak is not, by any means, an underdog. He has had an education earmarked for the elite and his net worth is contributed to by his wife’s enormous fortune.

“At a time when large parts of the UK are grappling with a cost of living crisis and many are struggling as a result of inflation and economic inequality, Sunak’s term in office, some fear, might be shaped, even constricted, by the view from the top of the pyramid,” the editorial notes.

Noting his hardline on immigration and his stance on Brexit, IE departs from the notion that Sunak symbolises a new Britain by noting that the country “seems to be, culturally and politically, closing in on itself.”

‘Irony cuts both ways’

The Telegraph finds that while Sunak was born in the United Kingdom to parents who grew up in Africa, his family’s Indian ancestry has made him “the focus of much media attention” in India, leading to reactions that involve two key strains.

The first involves the “seemingly delicious irony in the fact that a person of Indian origin will serve as the leader of the UK” and the second revolves around the idea that now Britain’s ties with India could blossom, the editorial says.

“Sadly for India, the irony in his appointment cuts both ways. And any notion that he might be soft on India while in power is deeply flawed,” it declares.

TT observes that a temple-visiting Hindu has risen to the top job in England and that a Muslim man, Sadiq Khan, is London’s mayor – symbolising clear diversity.

“By contrast, Indian politics is in some ways getting narrower and narrower at the top. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a single Muslim member of Parliament, and it is hard to imagine that a Muslim or Christian Indian could become the country’s prime minister in the foreseeable future,” the editorial frankly says.

It is unconvinced that Sunak’s politics will be influenced by his ethnicity beyond symbolism.

“His rise is no Indian success story. If anything, it is a reminder of what is no longer possible in India,” it says.