Rishi Sunak appointed as Britain's first Indian-origin Prime Minister by King Charles III

The 42-year-old former Chancellor of Exchequer, a devout Hindu, is the youngest British prime minister in 210 years. He is also the first Hindu Prime Minister of Indian heritage in the UK.
Rishi Sunak on Tuesday is  appointed by King Charles III as Britain's first Indian-origin Prime Minister. (Photo | AP)
Rishi Sunak on Tuesday is appointed by King Charles III as Britain's first Indian-origin Prime Minister. (Photo | AP)

LONDON: Rishi Sunak on Tuesday scripted history when he was appointed by King Charles III as Britain's first Indian-origin Prime Minister after being elected unopposed as the new leader of the governing Conservative Party on Diwali.

The 42-year-old former Chancellor of Exchequer, a devout Hindu, is the youngest British prime minister in 210 years.

He is also the first Hindu Prime Minister of Indian heritage in the UK.

Sunak became the ruling Conservatives' new leader on Monday after rival contender Penny Mordaunt failed to secure enough nominations from Tory MPs, and Boris Johnson dramatically aborted a comeback bid.

In his first address as Tory leader soon after the result was declared on Monday, Sunak said his priority would be to bring the country together and said he was "humbled and honoured" to get the "greatest privilege" of his life to give back to the country "I owe so much."

"The UK is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge," said Sunak, with reference to the economic turmoil he is inheriting following former prime minister Liz Truss' disastrous tax-cutting mini-budget last month.

The 47-year-old Truss announced her resignation last Thursday, admitting she could not deliver her "mandate" from Conservative members -- who had chosen her over Sunak in the summer.

Sunak, the second prime minister in as many months and the third this year in Britain, will be moving into 10, Downing Street at a time when Britain's economy is facing a triple whammy of slowing growth, high inflation triggered by spiralling energy prices in the wake of the Ukraine war and a budget shortfall that has eroded its financial credibility internationally.

His first task will be to restore Britain's international financial credibility after outgoing leader Truss's plan for unfunded tax cuts and a costly energy price guarantee spooked the bond market.

He will have no option but to raise tax rates and make spending cuts that will be unpopular and may have unforeseen political consequences.

Rishi Sunak becoming UK's Prime Minister is "our Barack Obama moment," said the leader of a Hindu temple that was set up by the Indian-origin leader's grandfather.

The Vedic Society Hindu Temple in Southampton, nearly 110 km from the south-west side of London, was established by Sunak's grandfather Ramdas Sunak, in 1971, with his father, Yash, continuing his connection as a trustee during the 1980s, The Independent newspaper reported.

Sunak regularly visits the temple in the Hampshire city where he was born and he last attended in July when he provided a meal for worshippers which his family does every year.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street here - the prime minister's official residence, Sunak said he would confront the "profound economic crisis" with compassion and lead a government of "integrity, professionalism and accountability."

WATCH | Rishi Sunak addressing the public outside 10 Downing Street

He spoke for five minutes and 56 seconds - longer than the time taken by nearly all of his predecessors when they made similar remarks at the start of their premiership, The Independent newspaper reported.

The one exception is Boris Johnson, who spoke for 11 minutes and 13 seconds in Downing Street after being appointed prime minister in 2019.

Sunak spoke for almost two minutes longer than Liz Truss, who took four minutes and four seconds to deliver her first speech in September 2022.

His speech also outran that of Theresa May in 2016 (four minutes and 42 seconds), David Cameron in 2010 (four minutes exactly), Gordon Brown in 2007 (two minutes and 49 seconds), Tony Blair in 1997 (five minutes and 17 seconds) and John Major in 1990 (two minutes and 49 seconds), the report added.

Several world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have lauded Rishi Sunak becoming the UK's new Prime Minister as a "ground-breaking milestone" and hoped for better bilateral relations amidst a turbulent world.

Biden is yet to formally congratulate Sunak until he has met King Charles and been asked to form a government, as protocol dictates.

European leaders offered their own congratulations, while Irish premier Micheal Martin reminded Sunak of their "shared responsibility" to safeguard peace in Northern Ireland following tensions under Johnson and Truss.

Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy also congratulated his son-in-law Rishi Sunak. "Congratulations to Rishi. We are proud of him and we wish him success. We are confident he will do his best for the people of the United Kingdom," Murthy said in a statement.

The Kremlin on Tuesday, however, said that Russia sees no reason to expect relations with the UK to improve under Sunak.

Russia does not see any "preconditions, grounds, or hope" for building more constructive relations with Great Britain in the foreseeable future, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, commenting on the appointment of Sunak as the UK's new prime minister.

On the other hand, India's bilateral relations with the UK may well be poised to see greater two-way exchanges thus, scripting an impressive political comeback in British politics.

His vision for India-UK bilateral ties has gone beyond the opportunity for the UK to sell things in India, wanting Britain to also "learn from India".

"The UK doesn't have a monopoly on opportunity. There's an enormous amount of opportunity in India, we also want to make sure that if this living bridge is going to be a real thing, we have got to make it easier for people in the UK to go to India, to study at world-class institutions to go work in all these amazing start-ups," Sunak said recently when he was Chancellor.

"I want to make sure that it's easy for our students to also travel to India and learn, that it's also easy for our companies and Indian companies to work together because it's not just a one-way relationship, it's a two-way relationship, and that's the type of change I want to bring to that relationship," the former investment banker-turned-politician had said while outlining his vision for India-UK ties.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not wait for Sunak to be officially appointed, as he already sent his congratulations via Twitter on Monday.

"As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues," Modi wrote.

"Special Diwali wishes to the 'living bridge' of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership," he added.

In his first address as Prime Minister, he pledged to approach the country's problems with "compassion" and "to place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government's agenda."

Sunak's historic milestone as the country's first non-white Prime Minister is being widely celebrated as a sign of the diversity of modern-day Britain.

(With inputs from AFP, AP, PTI)

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