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A ‘Situational’ Analysis!

Commenting on the cusp of Indian Independence in 1947, former Prime Minister of Britain Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) was heard saying: “… all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw.” Sir Winston had no idea that his country would opt for a Prime Minister of Indian-origin, Rishi Sunak (b. May 12, 1980), during the 75th year of Indian Independence.

The Britons have accepted a person of Indian-origin as their Prime Minister, as Sunak is all set to take charge on October 28. Now, the question arises: Can India show this tolerance? Accepting someone of foreign origin in an important position is a different issue, the number of minority community (Muslim) members of both Houses of the Indian Parliament has been constantly decreasing during the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi (from 2014). It may not be possible for the people to accept a member belonging to the minority community in the top-most position of the Indian Government in the near future.

Soon after Sunak became the Prime Minister, Shashi Tharoor – an Indian former international civil servant, diplomat, politician, author and public intellectual who has been serving as Member of the Indian Parliament since 2009 – wrote on his Twitter account: “If this does happen, I think all of us will have to acknowledge that the Brits have done something very rare in the world, to place a member of a visible minority in the most powerful office. As we Indians celebrate the ascent of @RishiSunak, let’s honestly ask: can it happen here?

It may be noted that a number of Indian politicians had refused to accept Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) Party, as the Prime Minister of India in 2003, as she actually hails from Italy. Although the former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, belongs to the minority Sikh community, current Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominated not a single Muslim candidate during 2019 Parliamentary Elections. Opposition Parliamentarian Mahua Moitra, too, has tweeted: “Proud of the UK, my second favourite country for placing a British-Asian in Number 10 (Downing Street). May India be more tolerant and more accepting of all faiths, all backgrounds.

Sonia Gandhi

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi has expressed hope that relations between India and Britain would improve during Sunak’s tenure as Prime Minister. The Indian PM is of the opinion that New Delhi and London would try to boost bilateral trade and business ties in the coming months. However, many have claimed that Sunak’s background would not help India strengthen ties with Britain, which has been going through an economic crisis since Brexit. Sugata Bose, the Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University and an Indian Parliamentarian, has stressed that he is not surprised to see Sunak as Prime Minister of Britain. Although Bose believes that Britain needs to hold a Parliamentary Poll in order to get rid of the economic crisis, he has admitted that it would have been unthinkable to see a non-White person in this role in any party in Britain, let alone the Conservative Party, a few years ago.

Dr Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History, South Asian Languages and Civilisations at the University of Chicago Centre in New Delhi, is not at all worried about Sunak’s political future. He thinks that Sunak’s name shall be there in history, like Barack Obama, the first coloured President of the US. Talking to the media, Dr Chakrabarty has stressed that the rise of a non-White person clearly shows how backward the Imperialist World is. The difference between today’s Globalised World and the Era of Imperialism has also become clearer, he added. He has explained that hatred on the basis of race, caste or religion still exists in the contemporary modern world. According to Dr Chakrabarty, the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the British Prime Minister also shows how racially mixed the world’s powerful people can be. Although the dominance of Whites in Global Affairs has recently been weakened, it will make no difference in the lives of a large number of people, living at the bottom of the socio-economic strata, insisted Dr Chakrabarty.

Since 1947, India and Britain have been sharing bitter-sweet relationships. Although some Indians have personal and emotional attachment with Britain, the majority of the people of India do not like the European nation because of their colonial past. Britain had used violence and racism to rule India for nearly 190 years, and exploited the Indian economy. In fact, the root of Britain’s prosperity and glory lies in colonial exploitation.

The main pillars of the structure of the British Empire in India were the adherence to a form of Apartheid, the policy of depriving Indians of Democratic Rights, and the policy of Divide et Impera (or Divide and Rule). The British rule in India was actually an Authoritarian System, carefully established and maintained by the British politicians, statesmen, intellectuals and historians. They used to argue that India needed British rule in order to become a civilised and modern State. Many top British politicians, like Churchill, did not even bother to show any reason behind British rule in India. Imperialists, like them, used to believe that Indians and other natives were essentially inferior people, and were destined to be under superior race, like the Britons. This mentality still exists in the Civil Society of Britain. Hence, Rishi Sunak’s Prime Ministership deserves a lot of attention. In fact, other European countries, including Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, France, etc., did thrive on their colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Despite the presence of apartheid, the British society has experienced some far-reaching changes in recent times, and the most important of them is to stress on merit rather than the origin of a person. This process, which is closely related to the fall of the Culture of Aristocracy, had helped Clement Richard Attlee (January 3, 1883 – October 8, 1967) and Margaret Hilda Thatcher (October 13, 1925 – April 8, 2013) become Prime Ministers of Britain. Furthermore, Britain has encouraged immigration from its former colonies since the Second World War (in order to import cheap labour). This influx of people from various African countries, India and Pakistan has given Britain a multicultural character. Families, which were once considered immigrants, have become an integral part of the British society. Members of these families have contributed in various fields. It is to be noted that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is of Pakistani-origin. His grandparents had migrated from Lucknow (British India) to Pakistan following the Partition of the Indian Sub-continent in 1947. Later in 1968, his father Amanullah and mother Sehrun arrived in London from Pakistan. It may be noted that Nasser Hussain (b. March 28, 1968), who captained the England cricket team between 1999 and 2003, was born in the southern Indian city of Chennai (then Madras).

Both the processes have played an important role in the rise of Rishi Sunak. Many would not want to accept him as a Briton in terms of race and ancestry. However, it is a fact that Sunak has emerged from the very heart of British institutionalism. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Lincoln College, Oxford, graduating with a first class in 2001, before gaining an MBA from Stanford University in 2006. He is one of the richest persons in Britain, and a pillar of the Tory Party. Hence, the rise of Sunak marks the triumph of history over prejudice, and the victory of merit over race.

Sunak’s journey has not been a smooth one. Right now, the British Economy is going through a deep crisis. Sunak was one of the most energetic politicians of the Brexit movement. His predecessor, within a short term in office, had introduced a Bill to withdraw Britain from the European Union (EU). Sunak could follow that path and make his debut as a Little Englander. He could also find new ways to negotiate with the EU, the biggest trading partner of Britain. Currently, he is confronting some major obstacles. Hence, his race or ethnic identity hardly matters here.

The Global Community is waiting to see how Sunak navigates this perilous path.

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