PM Sunak hazir ho: Tantalising prospect of a British PM with Indian roots now vaporising?
Rishi Sunak. 42 years old. The man who played a lead role in getting the Conservative party to ditch Boris Johnson. What chance does he have to become the next British PM on D-day, September 5?
Boris Johnson. Britain's first journalist turned Prime Minister since Winston Churchill was called a "greased piglet" by a predecessor of his, David Cameron. That term famously stuck on to the 58-year-old. But even the man who seemed capable of wriggling out of any tight spot finally had to agree to bow out of power in 2022 - his annus horribilis.
While 'party gate' dogged him for more than six months, it was the allegation of sexual misconduct levelled against a senior member of his party, whom he tried to protect, that finally ended his tenure.
The hack who became PM
Boris Johnson is a maverick by any stretch of the imagination, down to his rumpled blonde hair that made him look like a mischievous schoolboy.
Eton and Oxford educated, his career as a journalist saw him work for such famous titles as The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Spectator (whose editor he was till 2005). So, he knew the capricious nature of modern media and how to manipulate it.
Johnson began his political innings as an MP in 2001. Johnson went on to win the London mayorship twice, in 2008 and 2012, the year the Olympics returned to the city. He was to aim higher, and got re-elected to the parliament in 2015, becoming a prominent advocate of Brexit during the 2016 referendum.
When Prime Minister Cameron resigned after those who voted 'leave' during Brexit won, it was expected that Johnson would step into his shoes. But the Tory party's internal politics denied him the Prime Minister's chair then.
Theresa May, who took over as PM, made him her Foreign Secretary. As May struggled with the contradictions involved with Brexit, Johnson represented the 'hard' lobby that demanded making no concessions to the EU. Later, accusing May of 'being too soft', he resigned along with other prominent members of her cabinet, leading to the collapse of the government in 2019 and paving the way for Johnson to become PM.
Ironically, three years later, he would be felled by a similar coup that came on the back of a string of resignations by members of his cabinet.
As PM, Boris Johnson enjoyed much less support from his fellow office-bearers and party members than his predecessors. He leaves behind a disunited, unruly party, unravelling by the day.
Johnson's successor will also have to deal with the economic blowback of the Ukraine-Russia war and a fractured global geopolitical equilibrium.
Britain is at a delicate moment in its history. It has to transition into a net-zero emission economy, secure its position in a world dominated by the US, China and Russia and handle a dire economic situation at home. The sterling is falling, current account deficit is ballooning and debt-interest costs are rising.
Then there is Brexit. Johnson did indeed get it done, but the European issue still needs to be solved.
His resignation leaves a lot of loose ends that will continue to plague ageing Great Britain for a long time.
So, how did Britain see the outgoing PM?
Stock prices are usually seen as good indicators of a nation's mood. When Johnson resigned, both the sterling and stocks jumped. Does more need to be said?
After Boris, who?
The result on who among Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will be the next resident at No 10 will be out on September 5.
Sunak, 42, the former chancellor of the exchequer in the Johnson cabinet, was once considered very close to the PM. That was till he led the rebellion against Boris.
Sunak has strong Indian connections.
His grandparents hail from Punjab and had migrated to East Africa before moving to Britain in the 1960s. His wife is Akshata Murthy, daughter of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy.
Ms Liz Truss, 46, was a deputy director in a right-of-centre reform think-tank before joining politics. She was the foreign secretary in Johnson’s cabinet.
Tax views key?
Both contenders differ in their political outlook.
Sunak has advocated rescue packages to support Britons impacted by the pandemic and expressed his keenness to raise taxes.
Ms Truss , in dramatic contrast, promised to "start cutting taxes from day one" to promote growth.
Ms Truss is popular amongst the Tory grassroots and has topped the Tory members' opinion poll. Her main plank is her image as a 'low-tax libertarian' and that may well help her make her way into 10 Downing Street. Inflation-plagued Britons at this point in time are in no mood to further dilute their earnings, especially now that Brexit is biting.
Furthermore, Truss' hold on foreign policy, where she has talked tough on almost every important issue from China to the EU, has reinforced her image as a go-getter who will get the job done in a world that looks increasingly disdainful of the once great Empire.
The odds then are now tilted in favour of Ms Truss, especially after she won the enthusiastic endorsement of two Tory heavyweights.
Tom Tugendhat, who was also in the race initially before losing out, and the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, have both praised her performance in the foreign office.
Boris Johnson himself has also reportedly said that chances of Sunak winning are negligible now.
The Economist had written that "Prejudice may stop Rishi Sunak from becoming Prime Minister. For Sunak, the grandson of Indian immigrants, comes from a demographic that has long gone unrepresented at the very top of British politics: Old Wykehamists. Winchester, the posh school that Mr Sunak attended, churns out clever clogs who never quite make it to become prime minister. "
We will know next month how true this is.
Tobby Simon is Founder and President, Synergia Foundation. This is part of the web-only series of columns on newindianexpress.com.