Orange and pink fireworks colored the skies of south London on Monday, as members of the local South Asian community celebrated Diwali.
This year, aligned with the holidays Rishi Sunak42, became Britain’s first Prime Minister of Indian origin, as Hindus like him celebrated the festival of lights.
Sunak’s rise to power has divided opinion among South Asians in the UK. Some believe his historic appointment is a proud moment and a sign of Britain’s social progress, while others point to his vast wealth, privately educated background and adoption of hard-right policies.
Evidence of this broader view was evident when CNN spoke to South Asians in the London suburb of Tooting – home to a bustling immigrant community within the British capital.
Chic clothing stores, shrines and food vendors offer syrupy Indian desserts as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, while family-run convenience stores are on almost every corner.
The London suburbs are rich in the diverse heritage of its residents, with people of color making up more than half of the population. 2011 UK Census.
The same data found that around 30% of people in Tooting identify as “Asian” or “Asian British”, and that after English, Urdu and Gujarati are among the most commonly spoken languages.
Raj Singh, a Punjabi-Sikh member of the Khalsa Center, a local Sikh temple, told CNN, “I think it’s a good thing and auspicious to appoint him especially on Diwali.”
“This is a sign of progress, but only at the top. Rishi Sunak comes from a very privileged background,” says the 58-year-old solicitor, his glasses tucked behind his bright orange turban.
Singh said he believes Sunak’s ascension is a sign that only South Asian politicians with enormous social and economic advantages can “break the glass ceiling.”
Sunak and his wife earlier this year Akshta MurthyThe daughter of an Indian tycoon, appeared Sunday Times Rich List The 250 richest people in the UK. The newspaper estimated their combined net worth at £730 million ($826 million).
Sunak received congratulations from other politicians of South Asian heritage, including former Conservative cabinet minister Sajid Javid and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is in the opposition Labor Party. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent “special Diwali wishes” to Sunak, calling him a “bridge” between the two countries.
Outside the capital, Sanjay Chandrana, who heads a Hindu temple in Southampton, southern England, co-founded by Sunak’s grandparents in 1971, told CNN Sunak’s elevation was “a Barack Obama moment” for the UK in a nod to America’s first black president.
“I think it’s something important for the South Asian community… seeing that she’s the first South Asian Prime Minister of the UK. It’s something I think all South Asians should be proud of,” says Ertaza Nasir, a 24-year-old restaurant manager in Tooting. “I never thought this day would come.”
Anil Shah, a 75-year-old Hindu Gujarati shopkeeper, said Sunak’s leadership “proves that we have Indians who are smart enough to work.”
However, Nilufar Ahmed, a psychologist at the University of Bristol in West England, said Sunak’s leadership was “brief and complex” and Seema warned Ethnic representation at the highest levels of British politics.
“I think there was something quite beautiful about his appointment besides Diwali. I think having it was really meaningful to a lot of South Asians,” he said.
“But I also think it’s too simplistic to see Rishi Sunak as a symbol of a South Asian community in the UK. This is a person who has many advantages and therefore is not as representative as some of the discourse around representation is making him out to be.”
Ahmed says he remains cynical about comparisons between Sunak and Obama’s prime ministership, citing the absence of a mandate from the general public in Britain.
Sunak was appointed Prime Minister, replacing Liz Truss, after her only remaining challenger, Penny Mordant, dropped out of the Conservative Party leadership race. He is the third British prime minister in seven weeks, with his premiership sparking calls across the political spectrum general election.
“Rishi Sunak was not even elected by his own party, let alone the UK population. And so there will be resistance among the people against the appointment of Sunak. He cannot be seen as someone who is likely to represent the membership or the electorate of the Conservative Party,” commented Ahmed.
He added that his prime ministership “could play out in quite an alarming way,” in a quote Viral video In which a member of the Conservative Party launched a racist tirade against Sunak, telling LBC radio that he “doesn’t love England” and “isn’t even British according to most people.”
Sunak was born in the coastal city of Southampton and is a British citizen.
For Lubina Yar, a 56-year-old entrepreneur based in Tooting, Sunak’s appointment “was circumstantial.”
“Conservatives are conservatives. I don’t think it really matters what color their skin is,” reflected the 56-year-old as she sat on a plush pink chair inside her Pakistani clothing store.
Year said he did not align with Sunak’s Conservative Party values, but added that he identified with the sacrifices his parents made when they immigrated to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s.
He recalled that at the same time when his parents first came to the UK from Pakistan, his father was turned away from home ownership because racist neighbors said they did not want a person of color living on their street.
“I grew up in that era. And, you know, I remember what my life was or what sacrifices my parents had to make so that we could get a good education, get our degrees and do what we wanted to do. Our parents were not from that privileged background, but they made it for us.”
Sunak has inherited a myriad of challenges as the UK’s new leader, including getting the country out of a difficult situation. Cost of living crisis and calming financial markets in the wake of Truss’ short and chaotic premiership.
However, Sunac is partly responsible for the UK’s suffocating economic instability.
While serving as the UK’s former finance minister under Boris Johnson’s government, he put in place £400 billion ($452 billion) worth of measures to boost the economy, including a generous furlough scheme, business loans and discounts on dining out. But that stimulus came at a significant cost and left the government struggling to find savings.
He promised to bring “stability and unity” to the Conservatives, appealing to multiple factions in the party, which has seen Deeper section Since the 2016 Brexit vote.
I have historically voted Supporting stronger enforcement of immigration and asylum laws and countermeasures to combat climate change and promote equality and human rights. Like his predecessor, Sunak promised a tougher approach to illegal immigration and pledged to expand government. Controversial Rwandan immigration policy.
Further north, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, Faria Sharif said she failed to see Sunak’s leadership as a sign of equality.
The 30-year-old Muslim Pakistani chef said by email, “The appointment of Rishi Sunak leaves me feeling distraught and devastated by the chaos the Tories continue to misrule our country, especially with another prime minister not elected by everyday people”.
“I don’t see it as racial progress. I see this as tokenism of the Tories trying to push their agenda on affluent immigrant communities … It fosters an environment where brown people are only accepted if they follow the same strict rules on immigration and the economy.”
Sunak’s premiership sparked a debate among many British Asians at the intersection of race, class and politics.
The new prime minister enters Downing Street as one of its richest men ever, yet is tasked with leading a country where marginalized populations Deep in poverty In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
While Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak was criticized for proposing a paltry 1% pay rise for Britain’s workers. National Health ServiceDespite the institution collapsing under government cuts and Lack of staff.
Rina Patel, a Hindu Gujarati doctor who works at St Helier’s Hospital in south London, said she had “really mixed views” of Sunak’s premiership.
“In terms of representing people, I don’t think he can represent the poorest people in our society. And as a doctor in the NHS, I see some of the poor people in our society who are struggling,” said the 43-year-old from a local jeweller’s background.
“He’s smart, he’s got a financial background, I think he’ll do better than what he’s done before, but that’s not a compliment,” Patel added. “I don’t think he represents me.”
“What I see in Rishi Sunak is, first and foremost… an incredibly privileged person with enormous wealth and access to education and resources that most South Asians in the UK do not have. And so, I have more in common with working-class white politicians than Rishi Sunak,” Ahmed exclaimed.
Sunak may be the first British Prime Minister of Indian heritage, but his race alone does not qualify him to represent a diverse and nuanced vision of India. 4.2 million people with South Asian heritage who live in Britain today.
“It’s something to be proud of to see someone become a brown prime minister, and yet it’s possible to strongly disagree with a policy or a person,” Jasvir Singh, a barrister and co-founder of South Asian Heritage Month, wrote by email.
“Politics is much more than just color and race relations.”
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