The rise of Rishi Sunak: Curious arc of Brexit and Indian politics

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On the auspicious occasion of Diwali, a piece of news became a headline across the globe – ‘Rishi Sunak becomes Britain’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister’. He becomes the first person of color who is leading the former imperial power, Britain. Along with this, he secured several other records as well – the youngest PM of Britain in the last two centuries, the wealthiest PM in the world, etc. Similarly, his predecessor, Liz Truss leaves with the record of the shortest serving PM (She served 45 days). There are various factors that pushed Liz Truss to give up within 45 days.

Liz Truss unveiling of a costly plan to cap the energy household bills, in response to soaring prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war. But no measures were taken to raise funds after unveiling plans. In case of an economic crisis, tough decisions are imperative. But Liz took an opposite path to amuse the rising criticism. She announced massive borrowing and new tax cuts including for top earners in the UK, leading to the Pound falling. Later, her U-turn on the tax cut and the resignation of the home minister became the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

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The making of the problems in Britain

European union created post–World War II attempted to integrate European economies and prevent future conflicts. In a political society, it is said that supranational institutions like European Union has contained secessionist trend and brought peace to society. But the conservative party in Britain under the leadership of David Cameron decided to go for Brexit (Bringing Britain out from European Union) in 2016. The logic behind such a tough decision was regaining sovereignty, immigration and refugee issues, the Greece crisis, and the diversion of resources.

Subsequently, the leadership of the conservative party in Britain adopted the same trend with larger forces. Populism helped them in getting popularizing their narrative. Consequently, Britain voted narrowly – 52% to 48% – in favor of leaving the EU according to the referendum organized by David Cameron. After Cameron, Theresa May should have brought things in order instead of choosing the line harder than before for Brexit. Ms. May could have opted for a Norway-type agreement, which would have allowed Britain to remain in the European Economic Area and pursue a customs agreement with the EU.

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However, the subsequent leadership also followed the same path. Thus, Boris Johnson easily won the general election in 2019. Further, Liz Truss succeeded Mr. Johnson by pushing the ideation of Brexit to its logical conclusion. But the problems associated with Brexit which was more or less ignored in the shadow of populism, are still chasing the leadership of Britain. The situation of Britain calling Britain to go back to the drawing board because Brexit has failed to deliver the promises it made.

How has Brexit failed to deliver promises?

During the ideation process of Brexit, it was promised of getting back ‘millions’ to fund the National Health Service (NHS) once Britain comes out from European Union. But the reality is that today even NHS is on its knee due to a lack of funds. Consequently, due to financial constraints, infrastructural challenges like lack of staff are in the queue. There was a fairy tale of turbo-charged growth once the constraining labor laws and financial regulations of the EU is discarded. Today, Britain is facing an economic crisis.

Similarly, it was promised to assert sovereignty after coming out of the European Union. I think Britain was enjoying sovereignty more than other members of the EU. It is because although Euro is the common currency for the EU, Britain used the pound as its currency. It means Britain didn’t abolish its own currency. Since Britain regained so-called “sovereignty”, Britain is facing political instability at home. Getting 5 PMs in the last 6 years in Britain’s footprint of instability. The UK also faced a constitutional crisis in 2019 when Johnson decided to suspend Parliament for five weeks.

Consequently, Britain spiraled into an economic crisis. Britain lost a crucial market. World Bank report – A Glass Half Full – says that intra-EU trade is nearly 40% which is much more than intra-ASEAN trade i.e., 25%, and intra-SAARC trade i.e., 5%. In an economic grouping, developed countries have always an upper hand because it gives an opportunity for accessing the market. Thus, it creates job opportunities and provides fluidity to economic activities. Subsequently, Britain also failed in lining up to sign trade deals with a ‘free’ Britain. For example, in the case of India, a more favorable visa regime for its workers clashes with the “Brexit” narrative.

Sunak in the Saddle: Full of challenges

After succeeding Liz Truss, the way ahead is not a ‘bed of roses’ for Rishi Sunak. On the economic front, Brexit-induced economic loss has pushed Britain into an economic crisis. According to some estimates, a 4% drop in productivity is witnessed in the last 15 years as a result of the Brexit-induced loss of market access and openness to trade. Consequently, Rishi Sunak is facing – soaring inflation, rising mortgages, a continuing cost-of-living crisis, an NHS in crisis, and strikes by multiple workers’ unions. As Rishi Sunak has been one of the staunch supporters of Brexit, it would not be easy to balance both.

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Similarly, at the political level, he has been cornered because he is not white in color. For some of the politicians in Britain – “He is not even British”. Thus, the fate of the conservative party is on the line because of the political crisis of credibility. Apart from these, one more inhibiting factor is his wealth. He is even richer than King Charles III. Wealthiness of a politician doesn’t fit into democratic electoral politics. That’s why leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Lalu Prasad Yadav in India opted – “Careful carelessness” – they dress like the lower class to appear similar.

Apart from these challenges, bringing unity within the conservative party remains one of the biggest challenges. Sunak has reportedly said that it was his “utmost priority to bring our party and our country together” in the face of a “profound economic challenge”. Along with party members, civil society also poses a thrust to Sunak. For e.g., a rail union has already announced a week of industrial action due to a dispute over pay, job security, and other working conditions. In short, the same people who upvoted Brexit are not going to accept the consequences of Brexit.

Shadows of Sunak on Indian politics

As Rishi Sunak became the new PM of Britain, political winds of ‘western disturbances’ reached to India quickly. Some Indian leaders criticized the current dispensation over the role of minority communities in leadership. He drew a comparison with the current government in India and said that the ruling camp does not have a single Muslim MP in Parliament. However, other voices counter this argument on the notion that ‘minority’ doesn’t only means ‘Muslims’. Manmohan Singh also belonged to a minority community who led India for 10 years as a PM.

Similarly, India has appreciated Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam for his merit and rewarded the position of president. Today, the office of governor – under the leadership of Arif Mohammed Khan in Kerala – is also being led by the minority community. The US has not yet made any female president. But India has got a female PM in the face of Indira Gandhi. The US got its first president of color in 2008 when it elected Barack Obama into office after 232 years of independence. But India produced a minority president, Zakir Hussain from Telangana, down the south in 1967, within the 17 years of independence.

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Thus, it would not be appropriate to challenge the inclusivity of India. In fact, when Indian National Congress (INC) – formed in 1885 – to lead India’s movement, gave space to other communities as well. After the first presidency led by W.C. Benerjee, the second (Presided by Dada Bhai Naroji), the third (Presided by Badruddin Tyabji), and the fourth (Presided by George Yule), etc show the diversity in the leadership. If we analyze the last five presidents of India, we would find inclusive representation – Droupadi Murmu, Ram Nath Kovind, Pranab Mukherjee, Pratibha Patil, and Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.

In conclusion

Recently, Anand Mahindra rightly quoted – In 1947 on the cusp of Indian Independence, Winston Churchill supposedly said “…all Indian leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw.” Today, during the 75th year of our Independence, we’re poised to see a man of Indian origin anointed as PM of the UK. Today we are witnessing political stability in India having 1.3 billion people with huge diversity even after the COVID-19 pandemic. But Europe in general and Britain, in particular, are seen as divided in managing the pandemic.

After 75 years of independence, India is leading a diverse country with inclusivity and participation. We are celebrating “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” for the next 25 years to become a developed country by 2047. In a functional democracy, with the smooth transition of power in India speaks about the strength of the Indian nation. In spite of 1.3 billion population, we took care of the world during bad times like the Pandemic by providing vaccines and medicines to the world. I hope, Rishi Sunak would bring Britain back on track and would be positive toward ‘Roadmap 2030 for India-UK relations’.

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    neelam mehra

    i’ll get success from your initiative in upsc…inspirational, sourcefull, content is amazing .

    October 30, 2022
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