Even as they wonder whether Rishi Sunak will be able to steer the Conservatives and his country out of the “fiscal black hole” they have to contend with, British commentators haven’t missed the significance of his elevation to Britain’s highest political office on Diwali.
The timing is particularly significant in his case because Sunak will be the first practising Hindu to preside over a nation whose King is the defender of the Church of England. Sunak made history when he swore his oath to Parliament after the 2017 general elections with his hand on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, as pointed out by ‘The Guardian’.
And he was also the first occupant of No. 11, Downing Street, the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (an office that was held by the first prime minister, Sir Horace Walpole), to celebrate Diwali at the doorsteps of his then home.
Recalling that moment, which happened when Britain was in the throes of its own Covid crisis, Sunak told ‘The Times’ of London earlier this year: “It was one of my proudest moments that I was able to do that on the steps of Downing Street. It was one of my proudest moments of the job that I had for the last two years.”
Despite growing up in Britain and going to Winchester, Oxford University and then Stanford, Sunak has never glossed over his cultural roots, staying away from beef and keeping a statuette of Lord Ganesha on his work table.
“I can proudly say that I am a Hindu and being a Hindu is my identity,” he said in a media interview, adding that his faith “gives me strength, it gives me purpose. It’s part of who I am.” For Sunak, therefore, this Diwali will be special in more ways than what is obvious.
As Sunder Katwala of the British Future think tank told ‘The Guardian’, it was “an historic moment” that “simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago.”
Katwala added: “It shows that public service in the highest office in Britain can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. This will be a source of pride to many British Asians — including many who do not share Rishi Sunak’s Conservative politics.”