Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law, the retired entrepreneur Narayana Murthy, has broken his customary media silence to celebrate his son-in-law’s appointment as British prime minister.
“We are proud,” Murthy told the Asian News Agency. “We are confident he will do his best for the people of the United Kingdom.”
“Rishi Sunak, a ‘proud Hindu’, is new UK PM,” said the Times of India in its live commentary while the Hindustan Times described his selection as a “dizzying rise”. The paper continued by saying he was taking over at a precarious time. “The British economy is staring at a recession, inflation is at an all-time high and the ruling party has been riven with factionalism due to multiple power struggles.”
The TV channel NDTV called it a “stunning leadership change” while CNBC TV18 called his rise “nothing short of a miracle” and said Sunak had made the impossible happen. It also credited British society with affording Sunak the opportunity to reach the highest office. “The greater credit is to Britain itself, for bringing in institutions and developing a culture where Rishi Sunak could be possible,” it said.
The columnist Avinash Paliwal chose to strike a different note. Writing in the Indian Express, he referred to “racism” in the UK in an article headlined “Rishi Sunak, the accidental prime minister of a nation in chaos”. Paliwal wrote: “Racism in the UK runs so deep that it took an economic meltdown, two prime ministerial resignations, lack of an electoral mandate, and severe economic privilege on his part for multiculturalism to succeed.”
Mostly, though, the tone was lighter. The Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan posted a picture of himself to Instagram with a tongue-in-cheek caption congratulating Sunak and saying “now the UK finally has a new viceroy as its prime minister from the Mother Country”.
The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, posted a congratulatory tweet. “Warmest congratulations @RishiSunak! As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues and implementing Roadmap 2030. Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership,” he wrote.
Given how the opposition parties accuse the Modi government of discriminating against India’s minorities and pursuing a majoritarian agenda, the congress leader, Palaniappan Chidambaram, could not resist a dig at Modi over the fact that it was Britain’s embrace of ethnic minorities that had made Sunak’s rise possible in the first place.
“First Kamala Harris, now Rishi Sunak. The people of the US and the UK have embraced the non-majority citizens of their countries and elected them to high office in government. I think there is a lesson to be learned by India and the parties that practise majoritarianism,” Chidambaram tweeted.
A new angle also emerged on social media about the possibility that India and Pakistan could make rival claims to Sunak’s ancestry.
The Telegraph India pointed out that while details of Sunak’s grandparents were scant, they seemed to have been from Punjab in north India. But their birthplace of Gujranwala in Punjab, after the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 that resulted in the creation of Pakistan, now lies in Pakistan, not India.
Jokes filled Twitter about which nation could justifiably claim Sunak as one of its own. Perhaps, suggested one optimistic soul, the two countries could bury the hatchet and make a joint claim to him?