Rishi Sunak is a Hindu and the descendant of immigrants from Britain's old empire in India and East Africa
London (AFP) - Rishi Sunak, the Conservatives’ new leader, has capped a stunning political comeback that marks a dramatic rise to power for the son of immigrants from Britain’s old empire.
Liz Truss’s political implosion after just 44 days in office allowed the former finance minister to become the first prime minister of colour.
“Indian son rises over the empire,” read a headline on the Indian news channel NDTV, adding: “History comes full circle in Britain.”
At 42, Sunak will also become the youngest prime minister of modern times once he is confirmed in office by King Charles III.
The former hedge fund investor, an observant Hindu, failed in the summer to persuade the Tory grassroots that he was a better option than Truss.
But having correctly predicted her economic agenda would spark turmoil, he was able to throw his hat into the ring for a second time.
After securing the public support of more than half of Conservative MPs, his only remaining challenger Penny Mordaunt was forced to withdraw – following the failure of former leader Boris Johnson’s own bid.
Fabulously rich from his previous career in finance, Sunak faces daunting challenges in power, from an economic crisis to uniting his fractious party.
Some within it remain highly critical of Sunak, viewing him as disloyal for triggering the downfall of Johnson in July.
He has also been mocked as out of touch with Britons struggling with decades-high inflation – perhaps best symbolised by wearing expensive Prada loafers to a construction site visit on the summer campaign trail.
Video footage also emerged of a 21-year-old Sunak – educated at Winchester College, an exclusive private school, and the University of Oxford – talking about his friends.
“I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper-class, I have friends who are, you know, working-class,” he says, before adding: “Well, not working-class.”
- ‘Dishy Rishi’ -
A details-oriented policy wonk with a background in economics, Sunak has sought to present himself as a stable choice at a time of crisis.
An early backer of Brexit, he took over as chancellor of the exchequer in February 2020 – a baptism of fire for the Tory rising star as the Covid pandemic erupted.
He was forced to craft an enormous economic support package at breakneck speed, which he now insists must be paid off with sound fiscal plans.
In India, Sunak is better known through his wife, Akshata Murty. She is the daughter of Indian tycoon Narayana Murthy, the billionaire co-founder of information technology group Infosys.
The Sunaks met while studying in California and they have two young daughters, along with a photogenic dog.
The ex-minister’s Instagram-friendly profile earned him the media nickname of “Dishy Rishi”.
Until last year, he held a US Green Card – which critics said suggested a lack of long-term loyalty to Britain.
Sunak served as finance minister under ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson
And he has been dogged by difficult questions over Murty’s failure until recently to pay UK taxes on her Infosys returns, which opinion polls suggest was viewed with deep disfavour by voters.
Sunak has also been damaged by the scandals of Johnson’s tumultuous premiership.
He ended up with a police fine for breaching Covid rules after joining a birthday gathering for the then-prime minister at Downing Street.
Johnson was also fined following an investigation into the “Partygate” affair.
Along with the controversy over his family fortune, the scandal sullied the reputation of the teetotal Sunak, who admits only to a fondness for Coca-Cola and sugary confectioneries.
- Waiter to wealth -
Sunak is married to Akshata Murty, whose father co-founded the Indian tech giant Infosys
Sunak represents the constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire, northern England – a safe and overwhelmingly white Conservative seat he took over in 2015 from former party leader and foreign secretary William Hague, who described him as “exceptional”.
Theresa May gave Sunak his first job in government in January 2018, making him a junior minister for local government, parks and troubled families.
Sunak’s grandparents were from Punjab in northern India and emigrated to Britain from eastern Africa in the 1960s.
They arrived with “very little”, Sunak told MPs in his maiden speech.
His father was a family doctor in Southampton on England’s south coast, and his mother ran a local pharmacy.
Sunak waited tables in a local Indian restaurant, before progressing to Oxford and then Stanford University in California.
He swears his oath of allegiance as an MP on the Hindu Bhagavad Gita.
He insists his own family’s experience, and that of his mega-rich wife’s, are a “very Conservative” story of hard work and aspiration.