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Yes, Prime Minister! Hindu Americans Celebrate Kalava Sporting Rishi Sunak for Embracing His Faith, Culture

Yes, Prime Minister! Hindu Americans Celebrate Kalava Sporting Rishi Sunak for Embracing His Faith, Culture

  • Indians and Pakistanis lay claim to the new British premiere whose paternal grandparents were Punjabi Khatris from Gujranwala before migrating to East Africa.

Indian Americans and Hindu Americans in particular are hailing the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the prime minister of Britain. And that it coincided with Diwali made it more joyous and significant. Calling him a proud Hindu, they praised him for embracing his faith and Indian culture. Social media was flooded with images and videos of him sporting a Kalava (a sacred cotton red thread roll) on his wrist, lighting diyas at 10 Dowling Street when he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, taking his oath of allegiance as a lawmaker in 2020 on the Bhagavad Gita or doing cow worship.

The UK-born son of Indian-origin general practitioner father Yashvir and pharmacist mother Usha, Sunak had spoken extensively of his migrant roots during the last campaign.

Additionally, Sunak’s appointment “underlines the success of the Indian diaspora, particularly in the UK, where about 7% of the population is of South Asian origin, according to a 2011 census,” CNN report observed.

“It is gratifying to see a practicing Hindu become the prime minister of the United Kingdom,” Ajay Shah, President of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) and Convenor of HinduPACT, told American Kahani. “Unlike many other politicians, Mr. Sunak has not hid his Hindu roots and has not kept his dharmic practices under wraps,” Shah said, adding that the new premiere has “celebrated festivals publicly and taken his oath on the Bhagwan Gita.” His election “demonstrates that adhering to the dharmic values of universality and equality has appeal across the globe,” Shah observed. He feels that “Sunak’s political progress should be a lesson to many Hindu politicians in the U.S. — be true to yourself, do not shy away from your spiritual beliefs and you will find political acceptance.” He also hoped that Sunak’s election “will start a healing process for Hindus in India who suffered through 200 years of British colonialism.” 

Hindu American Foundation Executive Director Suhag Shukla told American Kahani that “what most Hindus appreciate in Rishi Sunak is that his religiosity does not seem performative.” So when he “sports a Kalava on his wrist, lights diya in front of the home, bows deeply to a sannyasin, performs a gau pooja, speaks of his Hindu identity, it feels natural, genuine,” she says. “Sunak is comfortable in his own skin. This resonates with many second-and third-generation Hindus in the diaspora.”

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad expressed their pleasure in Sunak’s election. “We are happy that in this difficult times in UK, @RishiSunak has been chosen to lead the country as Prime Minister. We are sure that he will combine wisdom of East & West to bring his country to great success and glories. He has the good wishes of all Indians also.”

Dr. Sampat Shivangi, who chairs the Mississippi State Board of Mental Health, told American Kahani that he has known Sunak’s in-laws’ family for several years as their relatives hail from his hometown of Athani in Karnataka. “What a proud moment for an Indian to see Rishi occupying the highest seat of power,” he said. “Just 75 years ago, Britons were the rulers of colonial India.” Shivangi said he looks forward “to a successful transformation of the UK economy in the coming days… I wish Sunak that he brings glory and tremendous credibility to his nation, the Indian diaspora, and his ancestral land,” he said.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) spoke of his grandfather who was a freedom fighter in India. “My grandfather spent years in jail under the British as part of Gandhi’s independence movement. It is remarkable to see @RishiSunak, an Indian British of Hindu faith become PM on Diwali. Regardless of politics, this is a symbolic step in moving beyond a colonizer’s world.”

His colleague, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois congratulated Sunak “for making history as Britain’s first prime minister of South Asian and Indian descent.”

Prof. Harsh V. Pant of New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation told CNN that Sunak’s appointment symbolizes how people of South Asian descent have “cut across political parties in the UK. He expressed confidence that the new prime minister “will shape the political trajectory” of Britain. “I think there is a certain comfort level that people of the Indian diaspora have in these democracies,” he said, which are “reflective of the largest success of India globally.”

In the Guardian, author Mihir Bose described Sunak as “a part of a very different wave of Asians. In the days of the empire, his ancestors had been encouraged by the British to migrate to east Africa, to act as middlemen between the British and the Africans. But when these countries gained independence from Britain in the 60s, gaining new leaders and in some cases becoming more hostile towards their Asian populations, many of those migrants – including Sunak’s parents – moved to Britain. His father came from Kenya, and his mother from Tanzania. And these Asians who migrated from east Africa have historically had more reason to be grateful to the Tories than to Labour.”

Gita Gopinath, the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, shared a photo with Sunak. “It’s a special Diwali this year as the UK has its first prime minister of Indian origin,” she tweeted. 

U.K.-based Indians weighed in on the developments as well, and hailed the appointment. Although there has been a marked increase in politicians of color being appointed to senior cabinet roles, including the key posts of chancellor, home secretary and foreign secretary, the UK has never had a black or brown prime minister before, they noted. 

According to Deepak Parashar, Associate Professor of Statistics and Health Data Science at the University of Warwick, England, Sunak’s election is “an historic occasion to have a non-white, non-christian at the UK’s top post, and yes, it does signify diminishing sense of racism. While it does exist implicitly at certain levels, the direction of travel for modern Britain is indeed the right one; one that is leaning towards diversity and equality throughout the multi cultural community that Britain is made up of today,” he told American Kahani. 

Nitesh Shetty, a Leed-based entrepreneur told American Kahani that Sunak’s election as UK’s first prime minister of colur and the first Hindu prime minister, are both “milestones in Britain’s evolution as a multicultural and multi-faith society.” He said the “historic moment wouldn’t have been possible even a decade or two ago , which focuses on identity and race.It shows that public service in the highest office in Britain can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds,” he added. “This will be a source of pride to many British Asians – including me as  many who do not share Rishi Sunak’s Conservative politics.The multi-millionaire former hedge fund boss will be expected to make deep spending cuts to try to rebuild Britain’s fiscal reputation, just as the country slides into one of the toughest downturns in decades, hit by the surging cost of energy and food.”

Twitter was awash with memes of a desi 10 Downing Streets while many were hopeful that Sunak would help bring the Kohinoor diamond back to India. 

Celebrations in India

Sunak has no direct connection to India except his wife Akshata Murty, the daughter of Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murty. His parents migrated to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s. Sunak’s grandparents hailed from Gujranwala in Punjab state before the Partition. His paternal grandfather Ramdas Sunak left Gujranwala to work as a clerk in Nairobi in 1935. His wife, Suhag Rani Sunak, first moved to Delhi from Gujranwala, along with her mother-in-law, before traveling to Kenya in 1937 to join her husband. Sunak’s father Yashveer Sunak was born in 1949 in Nairobi. He arrived in Liverpool in 1966 and went on to study medicine at the University of Liverpool. Yashveer married Usha in Leicester in 1977. Three years later, Sunak was born in 1980 in Southampton. 

Needless to say, India celebrated Sunak’s victory with enthusiasm. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi and other politicians congratulated Sunak. Newspapers included the story on their front pages. “Indian son rises over the empire. History comes full circle in Britain,” an NDTV headline said. “From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj as Sunak moves into No 10,” read a headline in The Times Of India. “Another Diwali gift to the country. Indian-origin Rishi to rule the whites,” noted the Dainik Bhaskar, India’s largest Hindi-language newspaper.

Sunak’s father-in-law, Narayana Murthy told the Asian News Agency that the family is proud of Sunak. “We are confident he will do his best for the people of the United Kingdom.”

Modi tweeted that he looked forward to “working closely together on global issues.” A few days later, on Oct. 27 he took to the microblogging site after speaking with the new prime minister. “We will work together to further strengthen our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” he wrote. “We also agreed on the importance of early conclusion of a comprehensive and balanced FTA.”

Sunak also tweeted after the phone call. “The UK and India share so much. I’m excited about what our two great democracies can achieve as we deepen our security, defense and economic partnership in the months & years ahead.”

Sonia Gandhi also tweeted a congratulatory message. 

“I think all of us will have to acknowledge that the Brits have done something very rare in the world, to place a member of a visible minority in the most powerful office,” tweeted Shashi Tharoor. “As we Indians celebrate the ascent of Rishi Sunak, let’s honestly ask: can it happen here?”

Congress leader P. Chidambaram, in a dig at Modi, tweeted about Brotoan’s embrace of ethnic minorities. “First Kamala Harris, now Rishi Sunak. The people of the US and the UK have embraced the non-majority citizens of their countries and elected them to high office in government. I think there is a lesson to be learned by India and the parties that practice majoritarianism.”

Pakistan Claims Sunak as Well

Indians weren’t the only ones who called Sunak their own. Pakistanis laid claim to the newly-minted premiere as well. “I think Pakistan should also lay claim on Rishi Sunak because his paternal grandparents were from Gujranwala who from there migrated to Kenya and then to Britain,” one user tweeted.

Omar Ali, a wrestler from Gujranwala, told the Associated Press that it is a “matter of happiness” that some of the new U.K. premier’s ancestors hailed from here. 

College professor Khurram Shehzad told AP he hoped Sunak would work not only to strengthen relations between Pakistan and Britain but also bring a “new era of success” for Pakistan and India.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif also offered his best wishes to Sunak as well. 

Some suggested that it was a moment of joy for both India and Pakistan. “Going to bed in the US with hopes that a Punjabi from Gujranwala will be the prime minister of the UK in the morning! Both Pakistan and India should be jointly proud of this moment!” one user said.

However, 35-year-old Zulfiqar Jatt told The Press Trust of India that “since Gujranwala is in Pakistan, anyone who belonged to this city even 100 years ago is a Pakistani today.

Meanwhile, some like Akhtar Saleem want Sunak to address the longstanding issue of the Kohinoor diamond. “Since he is becoming prime minister, I think Pakistan should ask him to return the Kohinoor diamond which was stolen from Lahore.”

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