The announcement of Rishi Sunack’s election as leader of the British Conservative Party came auspiciously on October 24, the start of Diwali, the highly symbolic “festival of lights” during which he and his fellow Hindus commemorate the victory of good over evil.
Some in the British press said it was “a small sign of fate”, while others saw it as “a nod” to the personal faith of the man who would become their country’s first Hindu prime minister the following day.
Sunak, a 42-year-old English politician who was born in Southampton to Indian immigrants, has never kept his faith a secret. In fact, he refers to it frequently in public. “‘British Indian’ is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it,” he told Indian daily Business Standard in 2015. “I am British through and through, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I’m open about being a Hindu,” he said in that interview.
Sunak’s grandparents, originally from the Punjab province, moved to British East Africa in the 1960s. Not long after, his parents moved to England, where he was born in 1980.
When he was elected to parliament in 2015, he took his oath of allegiance in the Commons Chamber by swearing on the Bhagavad Gita, the most sacred text in the Hindu religion. The Gita, as it is often called, is the central part of the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata and is considered the longest poem – nearly four times longer than the Bible – ever composed in human history.
Rishi Sunak is a former investment banker who is married to a wealthy heiress. The couple’s fortune is estimated at more than 800 million euros.
But Britain’s new prime minister is also said to be a “devout Hindu”. While he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Boris Johnson’s government in 2020, he was seen lighting candles for Diwali at his official residence at 11 Downing Street, next to the house he now occupies. “I was very proud at that moment to be able to do that on the steps of Downing Street,” he told The Times earlier this year. “(My faith) gives me strength, a purpose. It’s part of who I am,” he added.
A very diverse interfaith dialogue
Despite what his family history might suggest, Sunak takes a hard line on immigration. In particular, he plans to continue Johnson’s policy of returning illegal migrants to Rwanda. And in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with a very diverse interfaith dialogue, he has promised to further tighten the statutes for asylum seekers.
“Even if there are tensions between the different traditions, it generally works well, between Christian, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu populations, the last three of which have often been in the country for two or three generations,” explains Samata Opatha . a Hindu in his thirties who was born in the UK and still lives in London.
“The fact that Rishi Sunak was able to take up this position sends a positive signal and helps normalize the place of people of different backgrounds and religions than the white Christians who have historically been here,” she told La Croix. “In my (Hindu) community, we are very proud! For me it also shows that anti-discrimination campaigns have worked. A generation earlier this was hard to imagine,” says Opatha, whose parents moved to an affluent suburb. of the city in the mid-1980s.
When Sunak’s appointment as British Prime Minister was announced, the response was overwhelmingly positive, especially in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent him a personal message, not forgetting the religious holiday. “Congratulations @RishiSunak! If you become Prime Minister of the UK, I look forward to working closely on global issues,” he tweeted. “Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of British Indians” – he added – “as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership.”