Sunak A Legacy That Cannot Be Ignored
OPINION
OPINION

Rishi Sunak, A Legacy That Cannot Be Ignored

Sunak A Legacy That Cannot Be Ignored

Most predictions about the United Kingdom elections are that Rishi Sunak led Conservative Party will lose election to be held on 4th July 2024. Possibly quite badly. Sunak, Indian by origin, continues to show the best of Punjabi spirit. He is not giving up. He is there at hustings after hustings trying to persuade people to vote his continuing leadership. His energy and persistence has to be admired.

Whatever the outcome of this election, two facts cannot be ignored about British democracy and the British. This once fiercely racist country whose colonial history is marked by racism and subtle forms of apartheid, has almost completely changed. It has not only had people of African and Asian origin as its leading ministers, but even has had a man of Indian origin as its leader. Secondly, Rishi Sunak took the opportunity as it arose and will go down in history as Britain’s first non-White Prime Minister.

Rishi inherited a bad hand when he took over. His predecessor, Liz Truss, had embarked on an ambitious economic policy that alarmed the ‘market’ and spooked the financial sector. The British economy went into nose dive. To his credit, Rishi along with his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, stabilised the much damaged economy and have started to get it on its feet. The economy was already affected by Brexit, a move by the British that the rest of the world finds difficult to understand.

Given this extremely complex inheritance, Sunak has done well. Nevertheless, the recovery has come too late. Voters see Sunak as a Tory, not as Sunak offering a new beginning. They see fourteen years of mismanagement, cuts, broken promises and hardships even though things may be improving a bit.

Importantly, Rishi Sunak wasn’t elected as leader by the voters. He was elected to his seat. He was elected as Prime Minister by the MPs who moved against Liz Truss after the briefest of a tenure in office. She was Prime Minister for only 49 days.

Initially there was a sense of apprehension among many Conservative Party members at having a non-White British Prime Minister. There was a feeling of quiet amusement in many parts of the country. Since it is against the law to attack someone on their racial background in United Kingdom, Rishi was attacked for his wealth and his privileged background.

Rishi Sunak married into the fabulously rich billionaire Narayana Murthy family. Murthy is the founder of Infosys. For the Murthy family, Rishi’s ascent to 10 Downing Street was a proud moment. However Rishi Sunak was wealthy through his own efforts as a Hedge Fund manager. The wealth has often been quoted to be a reason, somewhat unfairly, of his lack of understanding of common people. Most British Prime Ministers have come from privileged background, private schools and Oxbridge. They have been no more ‘connected’ with backgrounds of ordinary people than Rishi Sunak. Nevertheless his wealth was something his critics could use against him.

Over his period at Downing Street, Rishi Sunak, nevertheless, won the hearts of many people with his management of the economy and the government. It will be fair to say that people have taken to him as one of them, until he made the gaffe at the 80th anniversary of D-Day commemorations on 6th June 2024 in Normandy, France, Omaha Beach, which he left early to get back to campaigning.

D-Day is an emotional event in European and particularly British calendar. This was when Allied forces crossed over to France at Normandy on 6th June 1944 to liberate France from Hitler’s Nazi forces. About 10,000 Allied forces, British, American and Canadian, lost their lives. There are still veterans from that era.

The immediate English reaction was that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, wasn’t one of us. It would have been the equivalent of an Indian Prime Minister not showing respect for Dussehra, the commemoration of Ravana’s death and Ram’s triumph.

ALSO READ: Why So Many Hardliner ‘Indians’ In UK & US Politics

It gave the crypto racists an excuse to back off from supporting Conservatives since Rishi Sunak is the Tory leader. Allegiances have switched over to the Reform party whose leader is Nigel Farage, a man who campaigns against immigration and immigrants.

It is debatable whether given a better hand, Rishi would have led the Conservative Party to victory. There is always something a person with immigrant background will miss to be ‘wholesome English’. Rishi clearly misjudged D Day celebrations and their deep and emotional relevance to the average elderly English person. Most people who vote for Conservative tend to be elderly.

The ‘outsider’ factor would have worked against him anyway. However in a better situation, he may have just scrapped in. This election is complex, with fourteen years of Conservative rule that has left a litany of poverty, broken school buildings, a creaking NHS (National Health Service), increasing street violence, a divided nation, increasing unemployment, the highest taxes in 70 years and young people unable to buy homes among many other issues.

Currently, like pre-election Modi juggernaut, Sunak had enjoyed a majority of 344 against Labour’s 202. While Modi has just managed to get a majority through a coalition with others, it is unlikely that Sunak can manage that even with support from other parties. Many of the current batch of MPs have retired, preferring to take their pensions rather than lose seats in the elections. The Labour Party is set to win.

The Labour Party, under the very organised and steely leadership of Keir Starmer, has been playing quiet, steady and without fanfare. It has enjoyed dividend from the chaos that the conservative party has become with five leaders in fourteen years and now bitterly divided into extreme right wing, slightly right wing, not so right wing, moderate and somewhat Leftist Tories. The infighting has been on display now for three years and voters have tired of all that.

Sunak, it is rumoured, is already planning a family move to California. He is nevertheless fighting tooth and nail, bloodied at the hustings by awkward questions, cryptic racist remarks by some extreme Right wing candidates and a press now resigned to Labour winning.

Further, unlike most Asian politicians in the West, Sunak did not abandon his cultural background to progress. He celebrated Diwali as his personal festival, visited the famous Hindu temple Akshardham on his Delhi visit, and maintained his weekly fast. It is to his credit that he refused to be ‘assimilated’ to get into Downing Street, with due credit to a changed British culture that no media criticised him for wearing his Hindu religion on the sleeve. 

Nevertheless, he will always be admired and applauded as the man who entered 10 Downing Street as a non-White, as of Indian heritage and a man who made race mostly irrelevant in British politics, despite it being there in the margins. Alas this election is not for Sunak’s to win. If he manages to win enough seats to avoid Conservatives being completely destroyed, he would have won in the minds of Tories. He will certainly not hang around to contest the next Tory leadership contest.

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Dr Lakshmi Vyas
Dr Lakshmi Vyas
1 month ago

I wish Rishi Sunak All the very best and a stunning victory.

Parvinder
Parvinder
16 days ago

Jasdev maybe a reference and consideration of the reasons for the probable ‘dysfunctional workings’ of the conservative cabinet under Mr Shaunak in the lead up to the election and followed through into the conservative election campaign with what appeared to small ‘contributions’ by the ‘big hitters’ in hustings and TV debates?

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