Rishi’s Election as PM a lesson for India

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Rishi Sunak has disproved all those who said that a person of Indian origin would never become the prime minister of Britain. He was elected leader of the Conservative Party and thereby as the 57th prime minister of Britain. It is another matter that he is the third prime minister Britain sees this year. His predecessor Liz Truss could barely complete six weeks in office. He could be elected unopposed only because his only rival Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the contest. He had already proved that he had the majority support of the MPs when he and Liz Truss were the only ones to remain in the contest. It was in the popular vote that she had an edge over him and he was defeated.

 

Sunak is not new to power. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he held the second most important elected post. Again, it was his resignation from Boris Johnson’s Cabinet that paved the way for everything that happened subsequently leading now to his own election. He has come to power at a critical time in the history of Britain. Covid-19 and the Ukraine war have caused enormous damage to its economy. While complimenting Truss, he had the courage of conviction to mention that she had to go because of the mistakes she made, though unintentionally. In doing so, he was letting the world know that he could not afford to make such mistakes while bringing the economy back on rails. Naturally enough, it was also a warning that he would take action which might not be popular with the people.

 

Difficult situations call for difficult solutions. He is an economist by training and as Chancellor until a few weeks ago, he knew the exact condition of the economy and what all needed to be done to turn it around. His party is now down in the dumps and he has the onerous responsibility of increasing its popular rating if he has any ambition left of leading the party at the hustings two years later. His immediate task is to win the local elections in May which will show how popular he is as prime minister.

 

Britain is now in the same position as India was in the early nineties when the economy was hamstrung with foreign exchange reserves falling and the government forced to transport gold bars kept in the Reserve Bank vaults to London. That is when the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo took a series of steps to usher in economic reforms that continue to benefit the country.

 

Sunak, too, needs to win the confidence of the public about whatever steps he proposes for strengthening the economy. Nothing baffles the public as the rise in prices of fuel and other essential goods and the losing value of the pound. Britain may no longer be “great” but it is like an emaciated elephant that cannot be kept in a cowshed. It needs to have money to provide external assistance and to support the precarious support systems for the elderly and the medically challenged. On the political front, he needs to end the never-ending spiral of disunity in the party. True, all the Tory leaders have rallied behind him but he cannot be such a simpleton as to believe that they are with him through thick and thin. As a British MP said, “my head is with Rishi, my heart is with Penny and my soul is with Boris”. Sunak, whose idol is Winston Churchill, would like the British people to say, “our head, heart and soul is with Rishi”. Of course, this is easier said than done.

 

Sunak’s election is a lesson for India. He is the chosen leader of the British people, among whom immigrant Indians constitute a negligible percentage. It is his competence that has earned him the trust of the people. In contrast, India sees assertions of Hindu majoritarian identity in all walks of life. A lady who lived all her adult life in India, won elections to Parliament multiple times and led her party to power, not once but twice, is still referred to as a “foreigner”. Efforts are underway to change every non-Hindu name of cities, towns, villages, buildings, and other sites. Those in power encourage the public to boycott the business establishments of a minority community, while a lady of partial Indian origin is just a breath away from the presidency of the USA and new temples are coming up fast in the UAE. Incidentally, VP Menon, who integrated over 500 Indian states into the Indian Union, rose up to the highest position in the British system, though he was not even a matriculate. Competence must matter, not identity: religious or racial.

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