Human Interest

Rishi Sunak’s Indian origin adds extra pressure on bilateral ties with India

By Hugo Barcia

New Delhi, Oct 25 (EFE).- The Indian origins of Rishi Sunak, the prime minister-designate of the United Kingdom, may not result in a major shift in London-New Delhi ties, and on the contrary the pressure to not appear “soft” on India may harden his stance in negotiations, experts told EFE on Tuesday.

“Sunak perhaps complicates the things a bit, because he will of course be under pressure to not be soft to India, so maybe he will try to project an image that he is trying to assert British interests,” Harsh V Pant, the head of strategic studies program at the think-thank Observer Research Foundation, told EFE.

Sunak is set to become the first British prime minister from an ethnic minority as well as the first non-white, Hindu and the youngest premier since the 18th century, at the age of 42.

His ascent to power, which comes amid a political crisis in the country and its economy staring at a recession, was hailed in several political quarters in India, including a greeting by the country’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi.

As Sunak won the race to lead the Conservative Party on Monday, coinciding with the Hindu festival of Diwali, Modi tweeted that he had become the “living bridge” of British Indians as they transformed “our historic ties into a modern partnership.”

Many other Indian personalities marked the occasion with a sense of sweet anti-colonial revenge, as a person of Indian origin has risen to power in London 75 years after India gained independence from the UK/

The chairman of Indian carmaker Mahindra group, Anand Mahindra recalled a statement that former UK PM Winston Churchill made about Indian politicians in 1947, the year of India’s independence.

“In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain,” Churchill had famously said, a statement that was widely shared in the South Asian country on Tuesday.

Over 75 years, ties between the two countries have gradually matured away from postcolonial tensions, and currently they are close allies, especially in the sphere of security and trade.

Outgoing British PM Liz Truss had visited New Delhi last year as the foreign minister, to sign various deals in defense and related to security in the Indo-Pacific.

The prime minister at the time, Boris Johnson, travelled to India in April 2021 to boost progress on a free trade agreement between New Delhi and London, which is yet to be finalized despite being announced in January 2022.

Indian economist Santosh Mehrotra said that Sunak’s ascent to power may not result in any change on the agreement, as the new PM is expected to focus on UK’s domestic economic recovery and is unlikely to prioritize the deal with India any more than his predecessors.

“I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever,” Mehrotra told EFE, agreeing that in fact Sunak might be “even more careful in his relationship with with India, so as not to raise any hackles or or suspicions in the British press.”

Both analysts underlined that the Indian diaspora in the UK could be the biggest beneficiaries of Sunak assuming office, as supporting them provides political capital, despite the resultant unease in sections of the Conservative Party.

“Across political parties there is a concern that the Indian diaspora is important and regulations with India are important,” said Pant, adding that bilateral ties between New Delhi and London would “continue to grow, whoever is the PM.” EFE


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