Sunak’s wealth and right-wing politics mean he is far from representative, say British Asians | Job Binary


Orange and pink fireworks lit up the sky in south London on Monday as members of the local South Asian community celebrated Diwali.

This year, the celebration coincided with 42-year-old Rishi Sunak becoming Britain’s first Indian Prime Minister, as Hindus like him celebrated the festival of lights.

Sunak’s rise to power has divided opinion among South Asians in Britain. Some see his historic appointment as a sign of pride and social progress in Britain, while others point to his vast wealth, private education and hard-right politics.

Evidence of this wide-ranging attitude was evident when CNN spoke to South Asians in the London neighborhood of Tooting, home to the British capital’s migrant community.

The streets are lined with fancy cloth shops offering syrupy Indian desserts along with fresh fruits and vegetables, places of worship and food vendors, and family shops on almost every corner.

Rishi Sunak's rise to power as Britain's first Hindu leader of Indian heritage has sparked mixed reactions from British Asians in Tooting, south London.

According to the 2011 UK Census, London suburbs are full of diverse heritage, with people of color making up more than half of the population.

The same data found that nearly 30% of people in Tooting identify as “Asian” or “Asian British” and is one of the most spoken languages ​​after English, Urdu and Gujarati.

“I think it’s a good thing, and especially on Diwali, it’s good that it’s being ordained,” Raj Singh, a Punjabi-Sikh member of the Khalsa Center, a local Sikh temple, told CNN.

“This is a sign of progress, but only at the top. Rishi Sunak comes from a very privileged family,” said the 58-year-old lawyer, his glasses tucked behind his bright orange turban.

Singh said he believed Sunak’s rise meant that only South Asian politicians with greater social and economic advantage could “break the glass ceiling”.

Earlier this year, Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy, the daughter of an Indian billionaire, were named in the Sunday Times Rich List, a list of Britain’s 250 richest people. The newspaper estimated their combined worth at 730 million pounds ($826 million).

Rishi Sunak became Britain's first Indian leader on Diwali, with his leadership garnering messages of support from other South Asian politicians.

Sunak has received many congratulations from other politicians of South Asian heritage, including former Conservative cabinet minister Sajid Javid and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is in the opposition Labor Party. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent “special Diwali wishes” to Sunak, calling it a “bridge” between the two countries.

Outside the capital, Sanjay Chandarana, who runs a Hindu temple in Southampton, southern England, founded by Sunak’s grandparents in 1971, told CNN that Sunak’s rise is a “Barack Obama moment” for Britain. president.

“I think it’s an important thing for the South Asian community … he’s Britain’s first prime minister in South Asia. I think this is something that all South Asians should be proud of,” said Irtaza Nasir, a 24-year-old restaurant manager in Tooting. “I never thought this day would come.”

Anil Shah, a 75-year-old Hindu Gujarati shopkeeper, said Sunak’s management “proves that we have Indians who are smart enough to do the job”.

Anil Shah, 75, believes Sunak's leadership is a sign of social progress in Britain.

However, Nilufar Ahmed, a psychologist at the University of Bristol in the west of England, said Sunak’s leadership was “nuanced and complex” and warned of the limitations of racial representation at the highest levels of British politics.

“I think there was something very good about its appointment with Diwali. I think it was very important to a lot of South Asians,” he said.

“But I think it’s too simple to see Rishi Sunak as a symbol of the South Asian community in the UK. This is a man who has many privileges, so he is not as representative as some discourses on representation make him out to be.’

Ahmed dismissed comparisons between Sunak and Obama’s prime minister, citing the lack of a general public mandate in the UK.

Sunak replaced Liz Truss as prime minister after her only remaining challenger, Penny Mordaunt, dropped out of the Conservative Party leadership contest. He became the third UK prime minister in seven weeks whose prime minister called for a general election from across the political spectrum.

“Rishi Sunak was not even elected by the people of Britain, let alone by his own party. Therefore, there will be opposition to the appointment of Sunak among the people. He is not seen as representing the members or constituents of the Conservative Party,” Ahmed explained.

He added that his prime ministership “could go down a very troubling path.” viral video in which the Conservative party member made racist remarks against Sunak and told LBC radio that he “doesn’t like England” and is “not even British in the opinion of many”.

Sunak was born in the coastal city of Southampton and is a British citizen.

For Lubina Yar, 56, a businesswoman from Tooting, Sunak’s appointment “made sense”.

“Conservatives are conservatives. I don’t think the color of their skin matters,” the 56-year-old mused as she sat on a pink chair in a Pakistani clothing store.

Yar said he did not agree with the values ​​of Sunak’s Conservative Party, but said his parents had been victims of immigration to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s.

He recalled that when his parents first came to Britain from Pakistan at the time, his father refused to buy a house because racist neighbors said they didn’t want a person of color living on their street.

“I grew up in those times. You know, I remember what my life was like or what my parents sacrificed so that we could get a good education and get our degrees and do what we wanted to do. Our parents didn’t come from such a privileged family, but they did it for us.”

Sunak has inherited a myriad of challenges as Britain’s new leader, notably the task of leading the country out of a difficult cost-of-living crisis and calming financial markets after Truss’s short and chaotic prime ministership.

However, Sunak is also partly responsible for the economic depression that has gripped Britain.

As Britain’s former finance minister under Boris Johnson’s government, he set out 400 billion pounds ($452 billion) of measures to boost the economy, including a generous holiday scheme, business loans and discounts on restaurant meals. But the stimulus has come at a significant cost, and the government has struggled to find savings.

He promised to bring “stability and unity” to the Conservatives by appealing to the party’s many factions, whose divisions have deepened since the 2016 Brexit vote.

Lubina Yar, 56, says she does not support Sunak's right-wing politics, but is concerned about her family's history of migration.

He has historically voted in favor of tougher immigration and asylum regulations and has opposed measures to tackle climate change and promote equality and human rights. Like his predecessor, Sunak has pledged to crack down on illegal immigration and expand the government’s controversial immigration policy in Rwanda.

Further north, in Glasgow, Scotland, Faria Sharif said she could not see Sunak’s leadership as a sign of equality.

“The appointment of Rishi Sunak leaves me disappointed and devastated at the chaos the Tories are continuing to misrule our country, especially with another prime minister not elected by ordinary people,” the 30-year-old Muslim Pakistani chef said by email.

“I don’t see this as racial progress. I see this as tokenism of the Tories trying to push their agenda towards affluent immigrant communities … it encourages an environment where brown people are only accepted if they follow the same tough rules on immigration and the economy.”

Sunak’s premiership sparked debate among many British Asians, who were at the intersection of race, class and politics.

The new prime minister entered Downing Street as one of its wealthiest residents, but he is tasked with leading a country where marginalized communities are falling deeper into poverty after the coronavirus pandemic.

During his time as chancellor of the exchequer, Sunak was criticized for offering staff in the UK’s National Health Service a paltry 1% pay rise, even as the agency was reeling from government cuts and staff shortages.

Indian Gujarati doctor Reena Patel, who works at St Helier’s Hospital in south London, said she had “really mixed feelings” about Sunak’s prime ministership.

“In terms of people’s representation, I don’t think he can represent the poorest people in our society. As an NHS doctor, I see the poorest people in our society who are struggling,” said the 43-year-old local jeweler in the background.

“He’s intelligent, financially literate, and I think he’s going to do a better job than before, but that’s not a compliment,” Patel added. “I don’t think it represents me.”

Sunak's fiscal policy as Chancellor of the Exchequer contributed in part to Britain's cost of living crisis.

“What I see in Rishi Sunak is, first of all, … an incredibly privileged man with access to knowledge and resources that most South Asians in the UK do not have, and enormous wealth. So I have more in common with white working-class politicians than Rishi Sunak,” Ahmed reflected.

Sunak may be the first British Prime Minister of Indian heritage, but his race alone does not make him representative of the diverse and nuanced views of the 4.2 million people of South Asian heritage who live in Britain today.

“It’s something to be proud of to see someone black become prime minister, but it’s okay to strongly disagree with a policy or an individual,” Jasvir Singh, an attorney and founder of South Asian Heritage Month, wrote in an email.

“Politics is much more than color and race.”

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