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Historic! Rishi Sunak to be UK's 1st Indian-origin PM

By Aditi Khanna
Last updated on: October 24, 2022 21:01 IST
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Rishi Sunak will make history as Britain's first Indian-origin prime minister after being elected unopposed as the new leader of the governing Conservative Party on Diwali as Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the race.

IMAGE: Rishi Sunak, seen here at a hustings event, in London, August 31, 2022. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

This means the 42-year-old former chancellor, a devout Hindu, is poised to walk through the door of 10 Downing Street in London after an audience with King Charles III in Buckingham Palace, which is likely to be on Tuesday.

Sunak will not officially become prime minister until Liz Truss -- Britain's shortest serving Prime Minister -- formally tenders her resignation to the king after which he will be invited by the monarch to form a new government. Besides being the first Hindu prime minister of Indian heritage, Sunak is also the youngest for around 200 years at 42 years.

 

The former finance minister was comfortably in the lead, having secured the public backing of over half the 357 Tory MPs - way above the 100 minimum required to make the shortlist.

In time for the 2 pm local time Monday deadline, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, announced in the parliament complex that he had received only one "valid" nomination and therefore Sunak is the winner of the leadership contest.

"I am asking you for the opportunity to help fix our problems," said Sunak, in his latest campaign pitch, with reference to the economic turmoil he is inheriting following Truss' disastrous tax-cutting mini-budget last month.

"The United Kingdom is a great country but we face a profound economic crisis. That's why I am standing to be leader of the Conservative Party and your next prime minister,” he said, promising ”integrity, professionalism and accountability” at every level of the government that he would lead and to ”work day in and day out” to get the job done.

Sunak will be moving into 10, Downing Street at a time when Britain's economy is facing a triple whammy of slowing growth, high inflation triggered by spiral lung energy prices in the wake of the Ukraine war and a budget shortfall that has eroded its financial credibility internationally.

His first task will be to restore Britain's international financial credibility after outgoing leader Truss's plan for unfunded tax cuts and a costly energy price guarantee spooked the bond market.

He will have no option but to raise tax rates and make spending cuts that will be unpopular and may have unforeseen political consequences.

Just moments before Monday's deadline, Mordaunt bowed out of the Conservative Party leadership race saying "Rishi has my full support" after failing to get the 100 nominations from Tory MPs.

"These are unprecedented times. Despite the compressed timetable for the leadership contest it is clear that colleagues feel we need certainty. They have taken this decision in good faith for the sake of the country... This decision is an historic one and shows, once again, the diversity and talent of our party," she said.

Earlier, high-profile Tory MPs switched allegiance from Johnson to Sunak, including former home secretary Priti Patel and cabinet ministers James Cleverly and Nadhim Zahawi.

Sunak's victory marks a remarkable turnaround in political fortunes for the former finance minister, who lost out to outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss just last month after his popularity among party colleagues did not translate in the wider Tory membership vote.

Truss on Thursday announced her resignation as the prime minister after just 45 days in office, following an open revolt against her leadership in the Conservative Party.

The outgoing prime minister won on a mandate to slash taxes to spark economic growth, but she was forced to U-turn on almost all of her economic policies after her mini-budget sent the markets into financial turmoil and the pound sterling crashing.

Sunak had famously challenged Truss's plans as "fairy-tale economics", and his supporters repeatedly pointed out how he had got the big calls right and was therefore the right candidate to restore economic credibility.

The UK-born son of Indian-origin general practitioner father Yashvir and pharmacist mother Usha had spoken extensively of his migrant roots during the last campaign and also referenced making history by lighting Diwali diyas at 11 Downing Street as the first Indian-origin chancellor of the exchequer.

"Sixty years after my Naniji boarded a plane in East Africa (Kenya), on a warm sunny evening in October, her great grand daughters, my kids, played in the street outside our home, painted rangoli on the doorstep, lit sparklers and diyas; had fun like so many other families on Diwali. Except the street was Downing Street, and the door was the door to No 11,” said Sunak in his campaign video a few months ago.

That personal story also extended to a visibly emotional reference to his parents-in-law -- Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy -- as he hit back at attacks on his wife Akshata Murthy's family wealth.

"I'm actually incredibly proud of what my parents-in-law built,” he said, during heated television debates over the past few months.

As a devout Hindu, Sunak is a regular at the temple where he was born in Southampton and his daughters, Anoushka and Krishna, are also rooted in the Indian culture.

He recently shared how Anoushka performed Kuchipudi with her classmates for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations at Westminster Abbey in June.

His self-made credentials of working his way through a non-scholarship place at one of the UK's best schools, Winchester College, to a coveted Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Oxford University and then an MBA from Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar tick all the right boxes for the country's highest political office.

His private sector experience at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager seem to lend him the aura of someone who can be trusted in the face of harsh economic headwinds, further bolstered by his prescient warnings over Truss's unfunded tax cuts.

His political career began with winning a safe Tory seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015 and from junior roles in the Treasury he was suddenly catapulted to the post of chancellor of exchequer when his former boss, Sajid Javid, resigned in February 2020. 

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Aditi Khanna in London
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