His-Tory: Misplaced euphoria over Sunak

Mr Sunak rose to power not because of his ethnic background and desi politics, but despite them. As a politician, he cannot be seen as closer to any other country but to stand for his own. If at all, he would be harsher on India to make a point

Srinath SridharanUpdated: Tuesday, November 01, 2022, 06:46 PM IST
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UK PM Rishi Sunak | File photo

That UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fought hard and long for his role is known. That he has worked hard is another given, and has been public with his views about the economic development (or rather rescue) for the UK.

Here is where the challenge starts — the misplaced expectation that he will be pro-India. Countless Diwali WhatsApp messages slowly avalanched into “apna ladka is now UK PM”. Memes became fun and more. Some even called it the revenge at the empire for lording over India decades ago. Why is there so much amusement and frenzied public display of Indian-ness, every time a 2nd- or 3rd-generation Indian-settled-as-other-nation-citizen gets into a leadership role?

He is a Brit

Will this particular individual even relate to India? Probably to an extent as a 3rd generation desi — who heard how his ancestors had moved from the sub-continent to Nairobi nearly a century ago.

Mr Sunak's grandparents originated from British India but their birthplace Gujranwala lies in modern day Pakistan's Punjab province. So the debate is still out if he is of Indian origin or Pakistani.

While it might sound unfair, with no disrespect, the desi-quotient can be a double edged sword. It could be used to discriminate, as well as appeal to a section of opinions.

We have to respect his age and years ahead of political leadership prospects. In many quarters, such youth might be held against him. It’s ironic that most of the G-20 nation leaders he will discuss with, will be a generation older than him. It has its pros and cons. Hopefully not patronising tones that he would receive.

The fact is that Mr Sunak is a British national. Make no mistake — he is not an Indian national. He was born and brought up in the UK. His family migrated from the sub-continent during British rule and was then impoverished. They left for better economic and social prospects, a view that usually gets carried by subsequent generations. It is his personal matter that much of his current family wealth might be linked with the wealth generation of the Indian company that his father in law founded in Independent India.

He benefited from education from the best of UK & US institutions (both of these global education leaders). As a younger leader, he might be able to relate to India better than most other desi-leaders of Indian ancestry. The reason being that he may not have too much of the baggage and rhetoric of desi Indians. The India they remember is one that is poverty-stricken, with low literacy and lack of citizenry benefits, not the better India that it has shaped into, currently.

He rose to power not because of his ethnic background and desi politics, but despite them. As a politician, he cannot be seen as closer to any other country but to stand for his own. If at all, he would be harsher on India to make a point. For any upcoming India-UK negotiations, he will want better deal for the UK, and not cede ground to India. But for sure, both sides will then claim win-win for public optics.

His political rivals and the local media will scrutinise everything that he does about and with India. While politically it would be useful for him to utilise his desi-roots, and to appeal his desi voting base, as well use desi-back channels to Delhi. New Delhi will also rightfully use these desi connections of global leaders to promote his causes. In a world of diplomacy, those become critical networks to activate.

Indian diplomacy

Some years ago, the GoI created the concept of OCI — Overseas Citizen of India. It celebrates the power of tapping into the network of those Indians whose previous generations had migrated out of India and taken citizenship of a foreign nation.

It is not just symbolism, but a showcase of the philosophy of India’s cultural-social diplomacy. It is based on showcasing India’s achievements across various spheres, and also its global role amidst global complexities and geopolitical tussles. India has been steadily growing its linkages with its diaspora.

The narrative currently helps that their country of origin or native roots is a global power, and a universal brother to every other nation. A nation whose economic resurgence is on its way, while working to eliminate the divides and access issues. A market who is looked at by the developed nations for wanting to participate in its consumption and growth — both of which translate to sustainability of their own enterprises or politics, domestically in their country.

A civilisation that transcends time, and has withstood wars, vagaries of nature, wedges of various philosophies, and yet has persevered to prosper. A nation where demographics, democracy and digital converge well for a better society.

This is why India is an important nation-partner, which has built global outreach based on trust and strategic intent. As a culture, India has had its original Bharat with many Rishis as founding fathers. So nations, communities, partnerships are important, and India can’t base its plans just on few individual Rishis.

 

Srinath Sridharan is a corporate advisor and independent markets commentator

 

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