Being a Proud Hindu and Britain’s Second-Most Powerful Minister
What is the basic difference between people of Indian origin succeeding in or becoming successful politicians of the United States and those having the same the distinction in the United Kingdom?
The best answer to this question has been given by Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most important post after the Prime Minister in the UK.
Sturdily defending the idea of having a strong British and minority identity at the same time, Sunak says: “British Indian is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu,” he says. He points out, for instance, that he doesn’t eat beef “and it has never been a problem”. As for America, it is different:“Religion pervades political life there, and that is not the case here, thankfully.”
Sunak is right. In the US, the India-Americans can do very well in the politics too. The new Vice President Kamala Harris and former Governors like Bobby Jindal and Nicky Haley have done very well. But for their success, they have “become” Christians.
But in the UK, it is not the case. Sunak remains a proud Hindu, like his two other cabinet colleagues – Home Secretary Priti Patel and Business Sectretary Alok Sharma.
No British Indian has been as successful in British politics as the 40 year-old Sunak. He was elected Conservative MP for Richmond (Yorks) in May 2015 and served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from June 2017 until his ministerial appointment on 13 February 2020.
He was previously Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 24 July 2019 to 13 February 2020, and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government from 9 January 2018 to 24 July 2019( these were senior political positions in the government, though).
The UK-born son of a pharmacist mother and a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner fathe, Sunak is married to Akshata Murthy, Infosys’ co-founder Narayana Murthy’s daughter whom he met in California and stayed there before moving back to London. They have now two young daughters.
Sunak, who also holds a MBA degree from Stanford University, co-founded a 1-billion-pound global investment firm and specialised in investing in small British businesses. “Excited to launch a Freeports consultation. As a proud, independent, outward-looking country we champion global free trade. Freeports will help to attract new businesses, create jobs and spread opportunity,” he had said before British Prime Minister Borris Johnson decided to make him his “Number–Two”.
In his bio on his website rishisunak.com, Sunak writes that he grew up watching his parents serve the local community with dedication. “My dad was an NHS family GP and my mum ran her own local chemist shop. I wanted to make that same positive difference to people as their Member of Parliament and I was first elected to represent this wonderful constituency in 2015 and re-elected in 2017,” reads his profile.
The three-time elected member of the UK Parliament is also a fitness enthusiast and enjoys playing cricket, football, besides watching movies in his free time. The former banker also co-founded a large investment firm, working with companies from Silicon Valley to Bangalore and used that experience to help small and entrepreneurial British companies grow successfully.
In a press interview, Sunak says that he speaks basic Hindi and Punjabi. His links with India, growing up, were tenuous because all his close relatives had emigrated. Still, there were childhood visits. He has a vivid memory of trying to play cricket in a Delhi park, and “being blown away” by the standard. Both his Punjab-born grandfathers emigrated first to East Africa, then to Britain in the 1960s with their families, and got administrative jobs. His “nanaji” (maternal grandfather), says Sunak, received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) “after decades and decades” working for Inland Revenue, the tax office.
When asked if he would have fitted into his legendary father-in-law’s family in India, he had replied “ Yes I would have, because that’s not what matters. The most important thing to my in-laws is, is their daughter happy?” On family interactions, he says: “We are not competitive, except about cricket. My brother-in-law, Rohan, has more IQ and degrees coming out of his ears than anyone I know (other than my wife’s uncle) and I learn a lot from him.”
He influences them too, he points out. “They quite like the United States, have done a lot of business there, but I believe I have shifted them over time to very pro-UK approach.”