As Rishi Sunak makes history as the first British Indian Prime Minister of the UK, India Global Forum (IGF) Founder Professor Manoj Ladwa reflects upon the significance of this inspirational achievement and the spirit of aspiration it has unleashed this Diwali.
On a cold winter evening in November 2015, 13 November (a day after Diwali) to be precise, at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 61,000 British Indians attending a reception in honour of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I recall what will now be regarded as a most prophetic statement by the then UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. I was standing just a few feet away when he declared to a hysteric crowd, that: “It won’t be long till there is a British Indian Prime Minister in Downing Street”. Most brushed it aside as a politician playing to the gallery.
Since then, I have been repeatedly told, especially over the past few months, often by very well-meaning friends from the diaspora, that the UK was not ready for a non-white Prime Minister. We have now had three women prime ministers and all other high offices of state have been occupied by people from ethnic backgrounds. But yet, the UK was somehow not ready for a “brown looking” Prime Minister.
After the results of the last Conservative Party leadership election, where Liz Truss pipped Rishi Sunak to the winning line by eventually a relatively small margin, I too began to wonder. That despite Rishi coming first in the vote amongst fellow Conservative MPs, and by all sensible accounts winning the political and economic arguments in debate after debate, and looking and sounding the much more convincing candidate, perhaps the UK I knew as a welcoming, open and fair country still had horrid yet influential remnants of a bygone era.
Well today, on Diwali, a most auspicious day for Hindus, Sikhs and Jain, and almost seven years from David Cameron’s prophetic declaration, we have a British Indian Hindu Prime Minister! Whatever our political beliefs, it is a moment of joy and pride for so many of us.
I recall stories my father would tell me that as an immigrant in the 1960s, there were places which openly displayed signs saying: “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”. How in a matter of two generations, this country has changed, and changed for the better.
Rishi’s story is our story. A child born in the UK to immigrant parents who through sheer hard-work and dedication sought to give their children a better life, with focus on education and good values, he has climbed to hold the highest public office in the land. And by virtue of this, has become one of the most powerful and influential leaders in the world.
I am sure that despite all the immense challenges, the Rishi I know will work to govern for all communities across our great nation. That’s what his values point to and that’s what the country will expect of him.
I also hope today across the UK young people of all backgrounds and all shades of belief will be saying: “If Rishi can, so can I”.
This is the spirit of aspiration that I hope has been unleashed by Rishi’s success today. If tapped, it will stand the entire country in good stead as we seek light to help navigate these dark and troubled times.