Orange and pink fireworks lit up the south London sky on Monday as members of the local South Asian community celebrated Diwali.
This year’s holiday coincides with 42-year-old Rishi Sunak becoming Britain’s first prime minister of Indian descent, and Hindus like him celebrated the Festival of Lights.
The rise of the snack has divided opinion among South Asians in the UK. Some consider his historic appointment to be a moment of pride and a sign of Britain’s social progress, while others consider his enormous wealth, privately educated background, and adoption of hard-line right-wing policies. Some people point out that
Evidence of this broader view was evident when CNN spoke to South Asians in London’s Tooting district.
Ornate textile shops, places of worship, and stalls serving syrupy Indian desserts with fresh fruits and vegetables line the streets, and family-run convenience stores dot nearly every corner.
According to the 2011 UK Census, London’s suburbs are steeped in a rich and diverse heritage of residents, with people of color making up more than half of the population.
According to the same data, nearly 30% of Tooting people identify as ‘Asian’ or ‘British Asian’, with Urdu and Gujarati being the most commonly spoken languages after English. one of the languages
“It is good that he is appointed and I think it is especially auspicious on Diwali day,” said Raj Singh, a member of the Punjabi Sikh community at the Khalsa Centre, a local Sikh temple. told CNN.
“It’s a sign of progress, but it’s only the pinnacle. Rishi Sunak comes from a very privileged background,” said the 58-year-old lawyer, hiding his glasses behind a bright orange turban.
Singh said he believed Sunak’s rise was a sign that only South Asian politicians with great social and economic privileges could “break the glass ceiling”.
Earlier this year, Sunak, the daughter of an Indian billionaire, and his wife Akshata Murty appeared on the Sunday Times list of the 250 richest people in Britain. The newspaper estimated their joint net worth at £730 million ($826 million).
Sunak was also flooded with congratulatory messages from other South Asian politicians, including former Conservative minister Sajid Javid and opposition Labor Party mayor Sadiq Khan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent Snak a “special Diwali wish”, calling him a “bridge” between the two countries.
Outside the capital, Sanjay Chandarana, who heads a Hindu temple in Southampton, in the south of England, co-founded by Sunak’s grandparents in 1971, told CNN that Sunak’s ascension was a “Barack Obama moment” for Britain, and made him America’s first black man. said he paid tribute to president.
“I think this is important for the South Asian community … given that he is the UK’s first South Asian prime minister. I think this is something that all South Asians should be proud of. said Irtaza Nasir, 24-year-old restaurant director of Tooting. “I never thought this day would come”
Anil Shah, a jovial 75-year-old Hindu Gujarati shopkeeper, said Sunak’s leadership “proves there are Indians smart enough to do the job.”
But Nilfer Ahmed, a psychologist at the University of Bristol in the West of England, said Snak’s leadership was “nuanced and complicated” and warned of the limitations of racial representation at the highest levels of British politics.
“I think it was very nice that he was appointed along with Diwali. I think it was really meaningful for many South Asians to have it,” she said. .
“But I think it is too simplistic to see Rishi Sunak as a symbol of the South Asian community in the UK. It’s not as representative as it is.”
Ahmed said he was still cynical about comparing Snack’s and Obama’s prime ministerships, citing the lack of a mandate from the British public.
Snack was appointed prime minister to replace Liz Truss after his only remaining rival, Penny Mordaunt, was dropped from the Conservative leadership race. He is his third British prime minister in his seven weeks, and his inauguration has raised calls for a general election from across political circles.
“Rishi Sunak was not elected by his own party, let alone by the British people. It will not be viewed as a ,” Ahmed commented.
She added that his prime minister could “unfold in a very worrying way.” viral video In it, Conservatives launched racist criticism of Sunak, telling LBC Radio that he “doesn’t love England” and “isn’t even British in most people’s opinion”. rice field.
Snack was born in the coastal city of Southampton and is a British citizen.
For Rubina Yar, a 56-year-old Entrepreneur based in Tooting, Snak’s appointment was “a contextual one.”
“Conservative is conservative. I don’t think skin color matters too much,” the 56-year-old reflected, sitting in a plush pink chair at a Pakistani clothing store.
Yar said he did not align with Mr Sunak’s Conservative values, but added that he sympathized with the sacrifices his parents made in moving to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s.
When her parents first came to England from Pakistan around the same time, her father offered her the opportunity to own a home because her racist neighbors said they didn’t want people of color living in their streets. I remember being turned down.
“I grew up in that era. Our parents weren’t from such a privileged background, but they made it for us.”
Snak inherits a myriad of challenges as Britain’s new leader. That is, the task of pulling the country out of a grim cost of living crisis and calming financial markets in the wake of Truss’ short and chaotic premiership.
But Sunak is also partially responsible for the economic turmoil that has choked Britain.
During his time as former UK Finance Minister under Boris Johnson, he took measures worth £400 billion ($452 billion) aimed at strengthening the economy. This includes generous furlough schemes, business loans, and restaurant dining concessions. But that stimulus came at a significant cost, and the government struggled to find savings.
He promised to bring “stability and unity” to the Conservative Party by appealing to several factions of the party, which have become increasingly divided since the 2016 Brexit vote.
He has historically voted in favor of stronger enforcement of immigration and asylum rules and opposed measures to prevent climate change and promote equality and human rights. Like his predecessor, Sunak promised a tough approach to illegal immigration and vowed to expand the government’s controversial Rwandan immigration policy.
Further north, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, Fariyah Sharif said she didn’t see Snak’s leadership as a sign of equality.
“The appointment of Rishi Sunak makes me feel withered and desolated in the turmoil of the Tories that continue to rule our country badly, especially another prime minister who was not elected by the public.” said the 30-year-old Muslim Pakistani chef in an email.
“I don’t see this as racial progress. It fosters an environment in which brown people are accepted only if they follow the same strict rules.”
Snak’s premiership has sparked controversy among many Asian Britons at the intersection of race, class and politics.
The new prime minister, who has entered Downing Street as one of the wealthiest residents ever, is tasked with leading a country where marginalized communities are plunged further into poverty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. increase.
During his time as Finance Minister, Sunak was criticized for proposing a meager 1% wage increase for the UK’s National Health Service staff, despite government cutbacks and staff shortages crumbling the organization. I was.
Rina Patel, a Hindu Gujarati doctor who works at St Helier’s Hospital in south London, said she had “really mixed opinions” about Sunak’s premiership.
“In terms of representing people, I don’t think he can represent the poorest people in our society. As an NHS doctor, I see the poorest people in our society suffering.” A 43-year-old woman spoke from the background of a local jeweler.
“In terms of him being smart and having a financial background, I think he’ll do better than he used to, but that’s not a compliment,” Patel added. I don’t think I do.”
“What I see in Rishi Sunak is, first and foremost, an incredibly privileged individual with enormous wealth and access to education and resources that the majority of South Asians in the UK do not have. So I have much more in common with working-class white politicians than I do with Rishi Sunak,” Ahmed thought.
Snack may be the first British Prime Minister of Indian descent, but his race alone is not enough to represent the diverse and nuanced views of the 4.2 million South Asians living in Britain today.
“Seeing a brown person become prime minister is something to be proud of, but it can also be very political and personal,” said Jasbir Singh, barrister and co-founder of South Asian Heritage Month. I wrote by e-mail.
“Politics is not just about skin color and race.”