Sunak’s smashing Diwali

There is always hope that GE15 building blocks will be placed for a better Malaysia 

DIWALI (or Deepavali as it is popularly known in Malaysia) was extra smashing this year for people of Indian origin. One amongst them took up the highest political office in the UK on the very day they were celebrating the Festival of Lights. 

Rishi Sunak became the prime minister (PM) when fellow contenders from the ruling Conservative Party dropped out of the race. The appointment of the 42-year-old politician unleashed a stream of memes, all playing on his Indian Panjabi heritage. 

He was elected neither by his party nor was he a PM candidate in a general election (GE). In other words, he wasn’t a PM poster boy like Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob or Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim or Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin in Malaysia’s next GE. Sunak’s elevation was more by default, him being the last man standing. 

Still, his stepping into No 10 Downing Street — the famous address for the British PM’s office — made history in more ways than one. He was the first Asian and person of colour, and the first Hindu, to occupy the office that once determined what happened in a large part of the earth, Malaya and India included. And he is the youngest occupant, as well. 

To his credit, Sunak does not shy away from his faith and heritage. Two years ago, he was photographed lighting an oil lamp outside No 11 Downing Street. That’s the official residence of Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, a key position in the British political hierarchy.

“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,” he told The Times newspaper.
Sunak was born in Southamp
ton on May 12, 1980. His Hindu parents, Yashvir and Usha Sunak of Indian Panjabi descent, were born and bred in Africa. 

His grandparents were part of the Indian diaspora that went abroad. Some of them came to Malaya, and I count my forefathers among them. Sunak’s paternal grandfather was born in Gujranwala, Panjab, which is part of modern-day Pakistan. What a journey. 

So, will it bring about immediate changes on the ground on diversity count? Don’t hold your breath. 

“He’s ultra-elitist even by Tory standards,” said one British Asian in a chat group I’m involved in. “Full-on fascist, more white than the average Tory voter,” said another. Alright, the second remark sounded like coming from an irate citizen.

For a start, Sunak is no man-in-the-street or your regular Joe. He’s rich, filthy rich. I won’t go into the details as you would have read about his banking days and marriage to a lady from a super-rich Indian family. No harm in that, in itself. 

And like most of British PMs, he is from Oxford University. Again, people of the same pedigree. So, we can expect more of the same from Sunak. How it will help Britain to negotiate the massive economic challenges ahead will be interesting to watch. 

Still, his becoming PM is no small matter. There are reasons for celebration. It has broken more glass ceilings around the world for brown boys and girls like my kids. 

My prayer is that Malaysia, too, will provide robust opportunities to all its citizens and celebrate them as true sons and daughters of the nation. Some work needs to be done on that front. 

I don’t see it taking shape after the 15th General Election (GE15), which will probably leave us with no coalition romping home with a thumping victory. But there is always hope that the building blocks will be placed for a better Malaysia. — pic AFP

  • Habhajan Singh is the corporate editor at The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition