The Diwali of 2022 could not be better for Indians. The bumper sales marked the arrival of India’s post-covid consumption capacity. The fuel on the fire was poured by Kohli’s hammering of Pakistan at the MCG. And then Liz Truss’ resignation resulted in renewed chances for Rishi Sunak to become Prime Minister of the UK. Indeed, on the day of Deepawali, his elevation was confirmed.
Sunak at the helm of affairs in Britain
Sunak became Britain’s 3rd Prime Minister within a span of 60 days. His rival, Penny Mordaunt, failed to secure the necessary 100 nominations from her party members. The need arrived because Liz Truss, who had beaten Rishi Sunak in September, failed to consolidate her victory. In order to rush the economy out of recession, Truss introduced tax reforms that were not welcomed by the market.
Her policy was even termed as ‘voodoo policy’ by many. She did retract her plans, but by then the damage had been done. Truss became highly unpopular and Rishi, formerly in charge of the British treasury, was pushed as an able and experienced successor to Truss.
Indeed, the reactions from all across the world confirm it. The EU, Ireland, the US, Australia, and all-important Ukraine have welcomed Sunak’s accession. However, no country is happier than India. PM Modi himself took to Twitter to congratulate Rishi, terming him as the ‘’living bridge” of UK Indians.
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.
It is clear that exuberance is unreal, and why should it not be? Rishi has been one heck of a promoter of Indian culture. At a time when it is getting politically incorrect to flaunt Hindu identity, Rishi has been upright about it. When he was elected MP in the House of Commons, he took the oath of allegiance through the Bhagavad Gita. Sunak repeated it whenever he was elevated to new positions.
Even when he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, the son-in-law of Narayan Murthi had done the same. Rishi repeatedly tweeted photos and videos of himself doing cow worship and praying on Krishnastami. Apparently, he did this while campaigning for leadership in the Conservative party.
Today I visited the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple with my wife Akshata to celebrate Janmashtami, in advance of the popular Hindu festival celebrating Lord Krishna’s birthday. pic.twitter.com/WL3FQVk0oU
Rishi Sunak (potential PM of UK) and his wife doing Gau Mata Pooja in the UK. This strongly shows that India has 'arrived' on the world stage and we are no longer embarrassed or ashamed to display our rich cultural heritage. Jai Sanatan Dharam. #rishisunak#gaumata#dharmapic.twitter.com/jE8xtrtO68
Doing that while being a member of the party which is largely perceived by the White English people as a protector of their interests is quite a gutsy act. Rishi effectively snatched the opposition Labour Party’s talking point of standing for minority groups.
His Prime Ministership will instil confidence among millions of non-white Brits that they can trust the Conservative Party to conserve their own interests. The way racist factions of the Torris have been tormented during Rishi’s elevation is a testament to the fact that Rishi has broken the glass ceiling.
China is happy about Rishi
Amidst all this, what does Rishi Sunak mean for the world, especially India? Yes, it is true that Rishi’s Prime Ministership has been welcomed all across the world. But, you know what, one more country has welcomed Rishi. This country is on the radar of every other state in the post-1945 world order.
Yes, China has welcomed Rishi with open arms. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “We hope that we can work with the UK side on the basis of mutual respect and win-win cooperation and advance China-UK relations along the right track.”
Chinese enthusiasm came despite Rishi’s pitch for controlling Chinese influence in the British policy. In July this year, Rishi seemed to have a detailed plan for throwing out Chinese soft power in the country as well. Rishi had previously stated that if becomes Prime Minister, he would shut down 30 Confucius institutes in Britain.
Additionally, along the lines of India’s keeping a check on foreign funding, Rishi will also ask universities to disclose foreign funding. This action is specifically aimed, as what Rishi termed as, “kicking the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) out of our universities.” Moreover, to counter Chinese military ambitions, Rishi is thinking of building a “NATO-style” military cooperation.
It looks confusing, right? You know, Rishi fired verbal bullets against China. On the other hand, China expressed enthusiasm on his arrival at 10 downing street.
Well, China has its reasons to do so. Rishi may have spoken against China, but during his days as Chancellor of Exchequer in Boris’ Cabinet, Rishi was considered pro-China. At a time when China was becoming a pariah on the global stage and the Tories were just recovering from their guilt over David Cameron’s friendship with Xi Jinping, Sunak had asked to introduce sensibility in the approach towards China.
According to Sunak, the debate on China lacked nuance. He was of the opinion that the UK could economically benefit from China while raising its voice against human rights erosion by the Xi Jinping administration. Sunak even formally agreed to hold trade talks during a phone call with Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua.
Rishi had his reasons for being that. Fundamentally, Rishi’s job was to look after the flow of money in Brits’ hands. When he took charge, Brexit was in full swing. The UK needed both money and the market. The problem was exacerbated by the COVID crisis and the unnecessary extension of lockdowns.
In the wake of other countries going ultra-protectionist against COVID, China was the pragmatic option for Rishi. Therefore, he pushed for a “complete sea change” in Britain’s approach towards China. Only when he realised that Truss would use his China inclination during the race for Prime Ministership, Rishi launched a scathing attack on China.
Interestingly, things have not changed much. The UK still needs money, while Jinping’s China also needs a more reliable trading partner. It will be interesting to see which way Rishi goes. It is here that India will sense Rishi’s intention and move forward on the lingering FTA with Rishi’s United Kingdom.
FTA with India on the line
Ideally, by now, the Free Trade Agreement should have been finalised. Boris Johnson wanted it to be launched on the eve of Diwali. The deal is crucial for Britain since it would mean that British companies would get privileged access to a China-sized market.
The added advantage of choosing India is that the British would not have to tilt the moral compass if India is the partner. India is a well-established moral force on the global stage. Literally, India is a gold mine for modern-day Britain.
Rishi will have to convince the Tories
The only thing the British have to accept is to provide for pro-India terms in the FTA. India wants Britain to open the gates for easier access to thousands of skilled workers.
However, the Tories want to have the cake and eat it too. Suella Braverman, an Indian-origin British home secretary, recently expressed apprehension about the arrival of Indians to the UK. Thankfully, she had to quit, but that does not mean Sunak’s party is all up for the FTA with India.
After all, they are from the conservative party, and their own interests will supersede everyone else’s. Even if Rishi Sunak ultimately wants an FTA with India, if his party members do not support it, he can’t go ahead with it. The man has seen two prime ministers lose their positions in front of him, all because their own party members did not fully support them. To avoid internal skirmishes, he would go the majority way, since not going there may result in a fresh election.
If Rishi decides to go against the FTA with India, he would be following a new trend. The new trend of Indian-origin politicians not being able to conjure up the courage to speak for India. In America, Ro Khanna, a Democrat leader, falsely blamed India for not coming out in explicit support of the Ukraine lobby.
Kamala Harris’ record is also not clear on it. While Indians celebrate her victory, she feels proud of pushing herself as a black woman rather than an Indian. Her niece, Meena Harris, has even risked the India-US relationship for political gains. And then there is Indian-origin Suella Braverman, who feels proud of the British Empire, which looted $45 trillion from India.
These people may be factually, morally, and ethically wrong, but peddling anti-Indian sentiments serves their immediate political interests. Thankfully, Rishi Sunak has not shown such a tendency till now. At the same time, he feels pride in calling himself elite, which should be a cautionary note for Indians.
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