NEW DELHI (AP) — Rishi Sunak, the former British Treasury chief who won the race to be leader of the Conservative Party and is likely to become the country’s next prime minister, is getting cheers from an unlikely place: India, its former colony.
As the news became clear Monday, social media and TV channels in India were awash with comments and reactions to the accomplishment by the 42-year-old who has spoken publicly about his Indian roots and Hindu faith.
For many Indians, who are celebrating Diwali, one of the most important Hindu festivals, it was the moment to say: He is one of our own.
“It is a moment of pride for India that the country which ruled us for many years has now a prime minister of Indian heritage,” said Manoj Garg, a New Delhi businessman.
Sunak will be the first person of color to take Britain’s top job, an accomplishment reflecting that of Kamala Harris, a woman of Indian heritage who became U.S. vice president last year.
Sunak’s grandparents hailed from Punjab state before the Indian subcontinent was divided into two countries — India and Pakistan — in 1947 after British colonial rule ended. They moved to East Africa in the late 1930s before finally settling in the U.K. in the 1960s. Sunak was born in 1980 in Southampton on England’s south coast.
His ancestral link is not his only association with India. He is married to Akshata Murthy, whose father is Indian billionaire N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of tech giant Infosys.
In April 2022, it emerged that Murty, who owns a little less than a 1% stake in Infosys, did not pay U.K. taxes on her overseas income. The practice was legal, but it looked bad at a time when Sunak was raising taxes for millions of Britons as chancellor of the Exchequer.
Nonetheless, Sunak’s rise to power in British politics has amped up a sense of pride among Indians.
Indian TV channels appeared star-struck by Sunak’s victory, with New Delhi Television running the chyron “Indian son rises over the empire.” India Today news channel took a jibe at U.K.’s economic and political turbulence, using the Hindi term for someone of Indian background: “Battered Britain gets ‘desi’ big boss.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Sunak on Twitter and said he is looking forward to “working closely together on global issues.”
“Special Diwali wishes to ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians as we transform historic ties into modern partnership,” Modi wrote.
Some said Sunak’s selection was particularly special for the country with its recent celebration of 75 years of independence from British colonial rule.
“Today, as India celebrates Diwali in its 75th year as an independent nation, the U.K. gets an Indian-origin Prime Minister. History comes full circle,” lawmaker Raghav Chadha tweeted.
Others celebrated Sunak as a “proud Hindu,” saying he did not shy away from embracing his faith and Indian culture. They shared videos on Twitter showing Sunak taking his oath of allegiance as a lawmaker in 2020 on the Hindu holy book Bhagvad Gita.
Other videos shared on Twitter showed Sunak praying to a cow, considered holy by Hindus, when he was running for Britain’s top job for the first time in August. In a Hindu ritual conducted in London, Sunak touched the cow’s feet while his wife offered carrots to it. Sunak also performed “aarti” in front of the cow — a Hindu ritual involving the waving of oil lamps.
Sunak has been public about his Indian origins and love for cricket. He has also talked about his abstinence from beef on religious grounds.
“I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my cultural heritage is Indian,” he told reporters in 2020.
Associated Press video journalist Shonal Ganguly contributed to this report.
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