Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | UK Prime Ministerial race | What does it mean for India?

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | UK Prime Ministerial race | What does it mean for India?

In this episode of Worldview, we take a deep dive into the upcoming election to decide between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak as the next Conservative party leader and the next British Prime Minister and discuss whether this choice between Sunak and Truss will change anything for India

This week, at least 160,000 British Conservative party members will begin to receive ballots for the election to decide between Liz Truss, former Trade and Foreign Minister and Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer or Finance Minister- as the next party leader, and the next British Prime Minister.

An election within the UK’s Tory party- as the Conservative party is known should not, in the normal course, mean much for the rest of the world- but there are several reasons why it has caught global attention, and more importantly for WV, India’s attention.

1. This is the first time a person of Indian ancestry, the grandson of Indian immigrants from Kenya and Tanzania – Rishi Sunak is so close to Britain’s Premiership

2. For an erstwhile imperialist power, one known for colonising and plundering peoples across the world from Africa to Asia, to have the possibility of its first non-white, and one of the only non-Christian Prime Ministers- is indeed a big moment for formerly colonised countries everywhere

3. The election is also important for the world as it sets the course for British foreign policy amidst Russia’s war in Ukraine, a possible conflict with China, high inflation and the next two years of economic recovery post-Covid in a country that is still the world’s 6th largest economy. On China, Sunak released a particularly strong plan of action, including banning Confucious institutes, tasking MI5 to crack down on Chinese businesses engaged in espionage and cybercrimes

4. The outgoing PM Boris Johnson, who stepped down amidst scandal, forged several deals including with India, a big free trade agreement which is being negotiated, and it remains to be seen whether these will be followed through by the next incumbent

5. And, whoever comes to power in September will have just about 2 years to the next election, at a time polls have put the Labour party far ahead of Conservatives 39 to 32%- that will have quite an impact on British foreign policy. In India for example, Labour is seen as more vocal on human rights issues, Kashmir and Khalistani movements.

Sunak and Truss, who came out on top of about 9 candidates, are now going head to head in TV debates practically daily, spelling out their positions on Foreign policy, trade, taxes, immigration, and China. One debate got quite dramatic when the moderator fainted off camera- and the debate had to be stopped.

Let’s just look at those polls thus far: according to Yougov

Truss is ahead of Sunak by quite a long lead amongst Conservative party votes polled in a head-to-head contest

Truss is also ahead of Sunak on who is more in touch, likeable and trustworthy, but Sunak beats her on who is more Prime Ministerial, and who is less unpopular amongst swing voters

Interestingly, since we spoke of the race and minorities questions, about half of all ethnic, gender and other minorities polled said it would make little difference to their rights whether the winner was a woman or an Indian-origin immigrant descendent. And remember, in a study of the approximately 1,60,000 party members who will be voting, more than half are aged over 60, and more likely to be male residents of southern England- 97% are white, as opposed to racial minorities.

Finally, when it comes to India, there are some more points to consider both pro and con Sunak and Truss:

– Truss negotiated the India-UK FTA as Trade minister, and then as Foreign Minister visited India earlier this year, in fact, speaking to The Hindu in an interview about closer ties with India, but then famously had a run-in with External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar over Indian support to Russia.

– Sunak has not visited India recently, but quite openly claims his Indian and Hindu heritage, and his wife Akshata Murthy is Indian and the daughter of Infosys founders Sudha and Narayana Murthy. While this makes him very familiar with India, it might make him less comfortable showing close ties amongst his British votes- in fact, both Sunak and Truss have taken strong anti-immigrant postures.

If elected, Sunak would be one of a growing number of the Indian diaspora -at least 200- that have made it to top offices, according to an Indiaspora survey, including:

– At least 5 heads of government from Portugal, Suriname, Mauritius and Guyana at present are of Indian origin

-Three are deputy heads like Kamala Harris in the US, Leo Varadkar in Ireland and Bharrat Jagdeo in Guyana

– Dozens of others are in the Cabinet, Ministers and top Diplomats in countries worldwide.

There’s also the downside of the diaspora’s dividends for Indian foreign policy, as the Modi government has learnt:

Eventually, the rise of an immigrant descendent to power in any country, or for that matter, the rise of any minority member whose community has faced discrimination, is an important and positive sign for that country. Much like we celebrate the rise of our first President from India’s tribal community President Droupadi Murmu as a sign of India’s inclusive and pluralistic traditions, we will salute other countries that can do the same. Foreign policy, bilateral relations between two countries, however, seldom change due to personal identities.

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