10 Downer Street: Social Media Flooded With Comments and Memes After Rishi Sunak’s Loss
- University of Warwick professor Deepak Parasher says despite being “a hot favorite” at the start of the race the British Indian former Chancellor came across “as far too aristocratic and theoretical in his approach to handling the economic crisis that has been looming large.”
The United Kingdom will not have a South Asian-origin prime minister, after all. Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, lost to foreign secretary Liz Truss the race for the Conservative Party leadership to become U.K.’s next premiere. Truss defeated Sunak, 57 percent to 43 percent to become the third woman prime minister after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. A few hours after his defeat, Sunak announced his support for Truss. “It’s right we now unite behind the new PM, Liz Truss, as she steers the country through difficult times,” he tweeted.
In an interview with the BBC a few hours before the election result, Sunak said if he lost, he didn’t plan to serve in a Truss-led Cabinet if offered a job but would continue to work as an MP, representing his constituency Richmond, Yorkshire. “It’s a real privilege to have the job that I’ve had, to have been chancellor at a time of enormous difficulty for our country and I am proud of my record as chancellor, helping safeguard our economy through the biggest [pandemic] shock it experienced in something like 300 years,” he said. “I’m now going to be focussed on supporting my constituents first and foremost in North Yorkshire and continuing to be their member of Parliament as long as they’ll have me and giving Liz Truss my full support as the new Conservative government gets on with grappling with the challenges ahead of us now.” However, he did not rule out the possibility of running for the post of leader of the Conservative Party in the future. “We’ve just finished this campaign. I’d say… I need to recover from this one.”
Meanwhile, it is being reported that Attorney General Suella Braverman is likely to be the only Indian-origin MP in the Truss Cabinet, as the Goan-origin former leadership contender is expected to be promoted to replace Priti Patel as Home Secretary.
According to Deepak Parashar, Associate Professor of Statistics and Health Data Science at the University of Warwick, England, Sunak’s loss is “not surprising” despite him being “a hot favorite” at the start of the race. “Rishi came across as far too aristocratic and theoretical in his approach to handling the economic crisis that has been looming large,” he told American Kahani. “Whilst Truss’s promise of helping people now when it is most needed seems to have resonated well with the public.”
Earlier in the race, Sunak seemed well-placed to become Britain’s next prime minister. As The New York Times noted, he entered the race “with an impeccable résumé, a reputation for competence and a reservoir of goodwill from having guided Britain’s economy through the pandemic, he was regarded as perhaps the country’s brainiest, most polished and most successful frontline politician.” Yet, opinion polls consistently showed him trailing Truss.
Nitesh Shetty, a Leed-based entrepreneur has a lot of hopes from the newly-elected prime minister. “With the new prime minister decided after a tumultuous summer and contentious leadership race, we might expect that the premiership of Liz Truss will think both globally and locally,” he told American Kahani. “As foreign secretary, Truss spoke of a ‘network of liberty’ that the United Kingdom was building with allies and like-minded partners,” he said. “However, I predict that we’re headed for a UK foreign-policy shift: We are going to see a turn to economic diplomacy as the priority through the Group of Seven (G7) and aggressive trade-partnership negotiations, as well as a re-think of the United Kingdom’s traditional partners on the world stage, continuing a process that began with Brexit.”
So why did Sunak suddenly become so unpopular? Many reports in the media, as well as critics, have attributed that to his privileged upbringing, his wife’s fortunes, and his American green card, to name a few. As reported by the Mint, his image was “permanently tainted when a video of his came into foray where he accepted that he took money from deprived urban areas,” sparking outrage.
Reports also surfaced about his wife Akshata’s fortunes, claiming that Infosys founder Narayana Murthy’s daughter is wealthier than British Queen Elizabeth II with assets worth £430 million, reports in Indian media said, citing the Sunday Times Rich List. Further, the Independent newspaper claimed that Akshata, who is still an Indian national, had non-domiciled status in the UK and was not liable to pay taxes in the UK. “In fact, her domicile status helps her to save around £20 million in taxes on dividends from her shares in Infosys,” the report said.
More trouble came when reports suggested that the Sunaks have retained their Green Cards even after returning to Britain. There were also reports that trusts in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands set up to manage Murthy’s interests, listed Sunak as a beneficiary as recently as 2020. There has also been talks about his expensive clothes and houses, which critics say portray him as out of touch with the ordinary public.
Meanwhile, Akshata was conspicuously absent during the election result announcement on Sept. 5 morning. A seat lay empty between Sunak and Truss with a name on it, while the husband of the newly elected prime minister, Hugh O’Leary, was to her right.
There’s a section of people who believe that despite being the more competitive candidate, Sunak lost because of his race. Author and activist Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu tweeted that if Sunak was white, he would’ve been the prime minister. “He wasn’t selected because he’s unqualified or incompetent/non-compelling,” she wrote. “Even I can see this, though I disagree with him. TORIES know he’s diametrically opposite to Boris Johnson & Liz Truss in skills/intellect but he’s Brown.” She was among many on Twitter to point out that Truss did not acknowledge Sunak in the immediate aftermath of her victory.
Parasher believes that while it’s unlikely that race played a role in Sunak’s defeat, “though it’s difficult to say.” According to him, “nonwhite MPs including British Asians have held key government posts in recent years.” Shetty agrees. “I think people are focused on anyone who comes into power and reduces the energy crisis,” he says. ” I don’t think it was racial, it’s more on what each leader could bring to the table.”
As soon as the result was announced, people took to Twitter to share the news. Social media was also flooded with memes of Sunak fleeing to the U.S. after his loss.
Some took a dig at his ‘gau pooja’’ (cow worship) in London. A now-viral video shows Sunak seen holding a brass tumbler in hand, offering holy water to the cow. He and his wife then performed an arati.
Some like technology writer Venkat Ananth joked about India’s obsession with Sunak, the UK-born son of NHS doctor Yashveer and pharmacist Usha Sunak, who is described in Indian media as “a devout Hindu.” He was also seen visiting the Bhaktivedanta Manor in London on the occasion of Janmashtami.
In a February 2020 article, the TFI Post reported that during his oath as an MP, Sunak, “didn’t shy away from embracing his heritage as he took an oath by placing his hands on the Bhagavad Gita.” His decision “resulted in protests from a section of British citizens,” TFI Post said, quoting Sunak telling a British newspaper that despite being a British citizen, his religion is Hindu, and his religious and cultural heritage is Indian. “I proudly say that I am a Hindu and my identity is also a Hindu.”
Last month, the Republican Hindu Coalition, a U.S.-based organization founded to be the unique bridge between the Hindu-American community and Republican policymakers and leaders, endorsed Sunak to be the next British Prime Minister. “We endorse Sunak not just because he is a Hindu but like the Republican Hindu Coalition, Sunak fully embraces our core values and its founding principles: The Four F’s: Free Enterprise with Limited Smaller Government, Fiscal Discipline, Family Values and Firm Foreign Policy – Sunak is a true champion of the conservative movement,” RHC said in a statement.
Twitter user SirKazamJeevi wrote that he feels sorry for the Indian news channels who must have created all kinds of VFX-laden content to get orgasmic over 24/7 coverage of ‘India’ taking over Britain.
A user named Dilip Kumar wondered “how a country, which denied a foreign-born to be India’s PM, was anticipating a person of Indian origin can become PM in any other foreign country?