The force is strong in UK’s Hindu chancellor

Star Wars fan: Proud to be British, Indian, and Hindu – all at the same time. © Getty

Is this Britain’s next prime minister? Rishi Sunak, the 39-year-old son of a pharmacist and a GP, has become the second-most important politician in Britain following the cabinet reshuffle.

In the end, it was expected to be a relatively minor reshuffle. The message from inside Downing Street was that major changes had been dumped.

But then, at 11:51am yesterday, a bombshell: Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer, had resigned.

Boris Johnson – at the urging of his strategy advisor Dominic Cummings – told Javid that there would be a new, joint team of advisers working for both PM and chancellor.

Javid would have to fire his existing team. Unable to accept the order, Javid stepped down.

Within minutes – and with a speed that some commentators say suggests a pre-planned operation – the new chancellor, the man in charge of Britain’s economy and the second-most important politician in the land, was appointed in his place.

Rishi Sunak, Conservative MP for the Yorkshire constituency of Richmond since 2015, had always been tipped as a rising star within the Tory party.

But even his most ardent supporters were shocked by the speed of his ascent to the pinnacle of British politics.

Sunak’s grandparents were born in the Punjab and arrived from East Africa in England in the 1960s. His father worked as a GP in Southampton and his mother ran a pharmacy, with young Rishi, born in 1980, keeping the books for her.

He took the scholarship exams for Winchester College, did not win a full scholarship, but his parents decided they would send him there anyway.

From there, he went to Oxford University to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Next, he got a scholarship to Stanford University in the USA to complete an MBA.

While in California, he met his future wife, Akshata Murthy. She is the daughter of the Indian billionaire, NR Narayana Murthy, who founded the technology company Infosys.

His enthusiasms are wide: the Saints (Southampton Football Club, where his childhood hero was Matt le Tissier); cricket; Roald Dahl’s autobiographies (Boy and Going Solo); the Star Wars films (he knew the answers to all five questions put to him about them by BBC presenter Nick Robinson), and Coca-Cola (“I’m a total Coke addict, Coca-Cola addict to be totally clear. I have seven fillings to show for it”).

And he has talked passionately about how comfortable he is seeing himself as a Brit, an Indian, and a Hindu – all at the same time.

He has no easy task ahead of him. In his previous job, he was not a cabinet minister. In four weeks, he has to deliver a new budget – one of the most daunting tasks in the political calendar.

But the excitement is high. And many experts see Sunak as a prime minister in waiting. Are they right?

In a galaxy far, far away

It’s unlikely. As the award-winning political commentator Andrew Gimson writes: “He is the new holder of British politics’ most unenviable post: the next prime minister. The role has been played over the years by many talented figures, almost none of whom has actually made it to Number 10.”

Not so fast! Johnson himself was dismissed by hundreds of experts for exactly the same reason. Look at him now. And Sunak is, for many, ‘the Future’: a truly global citizen, young, dynamic, and talented. Just the tonic for a tired old nation, suffocated by the cobwebs of class, empire, and tradition.

You Decide

  1. Could you see yourself becoming prime minister one day?
  2. Is Rishi Sunak your idea of the “face of the future”?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are assembling a fantasy cabinet from any time in history. Who would be in charge of the finances, the army, and diplomacy? Form into teams of three, decide on a cabinet, and share your ideas with the rest of the class.
  2. You are tasked with deciding the nation’s budget. How would you allocate funds. Research the amounts of money involved and draw your own spending chart.

Some People Say...

“British Indian is what I tick on the census; we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British – this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian; my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu.”

Rishi Sunak, UK chancellor of the exchequer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Many unlikely people have achieved high office. Last year, a stand-up comedian shocked the world by becoming president of Ukraine. In 1887, an 18-year-old Indian dropped out of college and slunk back home to his wife and children, penniless, and with no prospects. He was Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest leaders India has ever seen. And in 2016, a reality TV star named Donald Trump was elected to the most powerful job in the world. Compared to these stories, Rishi Sunak’s path to the top job would be relatively pedestrian.
What do we not know?
While Sunak is clearly hugely gifted and hard-working, we have no idea whether he has the qualities that make a good leader or “number one”. What are these qualities? According to most of the books on the subject, they include being ready to give credit to others, to admit your mistakes, and to take great risks.

Word Watch

Reshuffle
A changing of roles at the top of any organisation – but especially at the top of the government.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The chief finance minister of the United Kingdom, who prepares the nation’s annual budgets.
Dominic Cummings
Chief special adviser to Boris Johnson at Number 10 Downing Street.
Punjab
A state in Northern India.
Keeping the books
Doing the finances, the accounts.
Winchester College
One of Britain’s most famous and exclusive public schools.
Infosys
An Indian multinational corporation that provides business consulting, information technology, and outsourcing services.
Budget
The annual budget set by the treasury for the following financial year, with the revenues to be gathered and the spending plans.
Number 10
Shorthand for Number 10 Downing Street, the headquarters of the UK government and the official home and office of the prime minister.

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