Rishi Sunak – a profile

The former British Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is the new leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This was announced Monday by Graham Brady, leader of the 1922 Committee, the parliamentary group of the Tories in the House of Commons.

The 42-year-old will be the first head of government of Indian descent and colour. And the youngest since 1812.

“The big challenge will be the economy. The UK is a great country, but there is no doubt that we face an economic challenge,” Sunak said in his first speech as a Tory leader. “Now we need stability and unity. My top priority will be to unite our party and our country. Because this is the only way to overcome the challenges we face and build a better and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren,” added Sunak, underlining that becoming prime minister of the United Kingdom “is the greatest privilege of my life”. Sunak began his speech by thanking Liz Truss for “the service rendered” to the country in “exceptionally difficult circumstances”.

An Indian billionaire in Downing Street

Rishi Sunak is designated prime minister the very day Diwali begins, the “festival of lights”, one of the most important Indian holidays that symbolises the victory of good over evil. He is the first black man to achieve this position in the UK and the sixth person in the world, of Indian descent, to hold the highest office in the state.

The Prime Minister of Portugal is in fact of Indian descent, as are the Prime Minister and the President of Mauritius. Of Indian origin are also the President and Vice President of Guyana and the President of Suriname. Among the best known, also the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.

An intricate puzzle

Sunak inherits one of the most difficult situations the UK has ever found itself in. On the one hand, the real consequences of Brexit, on the other, skyrocketing inflation, the country’s growth in stalemate, the increase in mortgages and bills and the value of the pound at historic lows against the dollar. Rishi Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 to 2022 and, previously, from 2019 to 2020, Chief Secretary of the Treasury.

Childhood and education

Born in 1980 in Southampton, the first of three children, he entered parliament for the first time in 2015.

His parents, Yashvir is a doctor, and his mother Usha is a pharmacist, of Indian origin but born in Kenya and Tanzania respectively, transferred from Africa to the UK in the 1960s. Sunak attended Stroud School, a private elementary school in Hampshire, and then managed to enter Winchester College, a private boarding school for boys only where he became school representative.

During the summer holidays he worked as a waiter in a curry restaurant in Southampton but, as soon as he finished secondary school, he managed to secure a place at Lincoln College at the University of Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating with the highest degree of votes in 2001.

During his university years at Oxford, Sunak did an internship at Conservative campaign headquarters and didn’t jump straight into politics. From 2001 to 2004 he worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and then left to join the Children’s Investment Fund Management (TCI) of which he became a partner in September 2006. He joined another hedge fund company, Theleme Partners, in 2009, was also director of the investment firm Catamaran Ventures, owned by his father-in-law, the very powerful businessman N. R. Narayana Murthy.

The after Johnson

On July 8, the day after the fall of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sunak announced that he would run for leadership of the Conservative Party. Johnson’s loyalists accused him of plotting to overthrow the prime minister. Indeed, the readyforrishi.com domain was first registered on December 23, 2021, while ready4rishi.com was registered on July 6, 2022, just two days after his resignation as chancellor. The first domain acts as a redirect to the second. A sign that Sunak’s aspirations are not recent.

The case of the “non-domiciled” wealthy wife

Rishi Sunak has been married to Akshata Murthy since 2009. Together they have two daughters.

Murthy is the daughter of Indian billionaire N.R. Narayana Murthy. She is the director of Catamaran Ventures, runs her own fashion house and is among the richest women in Britain. Recently, she has made headlines for enjoying so-called non-domiciled status, which means that, for years, she has not been required to pay the income taxes she earned abroad while living in the UK. Murthy pays around £30,000 to secure this particular condition which allows her, however, given the enormous wealth she enjoys in India, to avoid paying around £20 million in British taxes.

The news emerged just as the rush between Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson began.

Forced by media hype, Akshata Murthy announced on April 8 this year that she will pay taxes on her global income in the UK from this year onwards. She also added that she does not want the affair to become a problem for her husband’s political aspirations.

Another scandal directly concerns Rishi Sunak, who held the green card for permanent residence in the United States while living and working – even as a minister – in the United Kingdom. In theory, he would then have had to declare his income in the United States.

Barnie Choudhury, editor of the Eastern Eye newspaper, told BBC Radio 5 Live that Sunak’s victory is “a big thing” for the Asian community. “Rishi Sunak – he said – will be a model that will inspire other Asians to enter politics and this can only be good for people of colour”. He also reflected on the possible racism that the new prime minister may face because “people of colour are expected to have a higher standard than white people”.

This is a TGCom24 article by Alessandra Sestito, first published in Italian.

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