Sunak Is Losing Momentum In Race For British Prime Minister And That Is Not Bad News For India

by R Jagannathan - Jul 20, 2022 12:32 PM +05:30 IST
Sunak Is Losing Momentum In Race For British Prime Minister And That Is Not Bad News For IndiaRishi Sunak.
  • India’s best hope should be with the new prime minister, who, hopefully will retain Sunak as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Indians have this pathetic need to claim the success of any Indian origin foreigner as their own. Whether it is Kamala Harris or Nikki Haley in the US, or Antonio Costa (the Portuguese Prime Minister who has Goan connections), or Rishi Sunak, who is currently seeking to become leader of the British Conservative Party, we show an inordinate amount of interest in their fortunes, and hope for their victory.

However, here is what we should know: despite the colour of their skins, Indian-origin foreign politicians, or other high achievers, are people who left India (in this generation or in the past), and they are not Indians in any sense now. Their success depends on how they find favour with local aspirations despite their different racial features, and not on what they do for India. In fact, their own success will be jeopardised if they are seen to favour India.

So, when it comes to Rishi Sunak’s rise in the Conservative Party, Indian well-wishers should hope that he does not succeed in his bid to become the next occupier of 10 Downing Street. Sunak, who is already handicapped by being the son-in-law of tech billionaire N R Narayana Murthy (he is married to Murthy’s daughter Akshata), he will have to bend over backwards to prove that he has no soft corner for India or Indian business interests. We should expect him to play tougher while negotiating the free trade agreement (FTA) with India, and will be forced to make irritating comments about the alleged mistreatment of minorities in India in order to prove he is a tough cookie on human rights. Boris Johnson did not have anything to prove about his Britishness, and if any of Sunak’s rivals for the leadership — Penny Mordaunt or Liz Truss — win, they will prove to be better for India than Sunak.

As Sanjaya Baru, former media adviser to Manmohan Singh when he was prime minister, wrote in a Times of India column, nearly 200 persons of Indian origin have been elected to political offices across 25 countries, and 10 have even been (or still are) heads of government. While some have been comfortable in their Indian skins and dealt normally with India, others have proved more prickly. Sunak will probably prove to be more of the latter. Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia was a tougher man to handle for India than any local Malay prime minister.

Fortunately for India, Sunak’s campaign seems to be losing momentum despite his head start. Between the first and fourth rounds of voting among Conservative Party MPs, Sunak saw his vote grow 34 per cent from 88 to 118. His two remaining challengers, both women, Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss, saw their votes rise 37 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.

The momentum is shifting towards the two women. Though Sunak may still remain in the final round of two, one should rate his chances as less than even because powerful forces, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are ranged against him. Johnson’s allies have started campaigning against Sunak. And even before the race began in earnest, Johnson was suspected of trying to scuttle Sunak’s bid.

A poll published by YouGov on Tuesday (19 July), when the race still had four contestants left (Sunak, Mordaunt, Truss, and Kemi Badenoch) showed that Sunak had the dice loaded against him. A Bloomberg report on the poll said “Sunak would lose to any of his three remaining rivals among Tory members in a final two-way round of votes. Kemi Badenoch, who has proved popular with the right wing of the Party despite never holding a cabinet position, is favoured to win against any of the candidates.”

But Badenoch is out of the race after the fourth round, leaving only Mordaunt and Truss in the ring. Sunak will probably lose the final round despite staying in the lead for now.

India’s best hope should be with the new prime minister, who, hopefully will retain Sunak as Chancellor of the Exchequer, since he has done a good job in keeping the economy afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic and when Britain was leaving the European Union. His expertise in Treasury is useful, but for India his prime ministership comes with challenges.

Sunak’s race and colour of skin may surely have something to do with this turn of events, but then would we not have fretted about Sonia Gandhi, an Italian-origin woman, if she had actually become prime minister in 2004? It is to be accepted as a fact of life.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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