Rishi Sunak: young, wealthy and the UK's first Hindu prime minister

Ex-chancellor, who is celebrating Diwali this week, makes history after being chosen to lead the Tories

Rishi Sunak, former UK chancellor of the exchequer, is hotly tipped to become the country's next prime minister. PA
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Rishi Sunak has been selected to be the UK's new prime minister, marking a stunning rise for the slick former hedge fund manager born to a Hindu family of Indian background.

At 42, he is set to be the youngest prime minister in more than 200 years, and probably one of the wealthiest to take the office.

The first Hindu prime minister

Mr Sunak's Hindu faith also makes him the first practising non-Christian to take the UK's top job.

The timing of a victory gives even greater cause for celebration as millions of Hindus around the world, and particularly in India, mark Diwali, the five-day festival of lights.

This time last year, the former chancellor lit a candle outside No 11 Downing Street for the religious holiday. This time he could light it outside the famous address next door as his political plans come to fruition.

Mr Sunak's career has been closely followed in India, where his attempt to become PM has featured on the front pages of most newspapers.

Some Indians said on social media that Mr Sunak becoming prime minister this year would be even more special as India recently celebrated 75 years of its independence from British colonial rule.

Rishi Sunak lights candles outside Downing Street for the Hindu festival of Diwali last year. Reuters

“This [Diwali] is very special for India's magnificent cricket victory and in all likelihood, Rishi Sunak, a person of Indian origin, a practising Hindu and our own Narayana Murty's son-in-law, becoming prime minister of UK,” Chennai resident D. Muthukrishnan wrote on Twitter, referring to the founder of Indian software giant Infosys Ltd.

Rishi Sunak took oath as an MP on [Hindu holy book] Bhagavad Gita. If he repeats the same for taking oath as prime minister, what a day it is for India, that too on our 75th year of independence from Britain.”

The Hindu Forum of Britain tweeted that Mr Sunak had written to the group sharing his best wishes with those celebrating Diwali, and said they are wishing him in return “every success on this auspicious day”.

The 1928 Institute, a University of Oxford-backed British Indian think tank, said it is “incredible” to see Mr Sunak “closing in” on the Tory premiership.

Meanwhile, Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said it would be “historic” if Mr Sunak was selected and would be a “source of pride” to many British Asians.

Who is Rishi Sunak?

Mr Sunak was born in 1980 in Southampton, the son of parents of Punjabi descent. Mr Sunak’s father was a family doctor and his mother ran a pharmacy, where he helped her with the books.

After private schooling at Winchester College, where he was head boy, and a degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, he took an MBA at Stanford University in California where he met his wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter of India’s sixth-richest man.

A successful business career, with spells at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager, meant by the time he decided to enter politics in his early 30s Mr Sunak was already independently wealthy.

In 2014 he was selected as the Tory candidate for the ultra-safe seat of Richmond in North Yorkshire — then held by William (now Lord) Hague — and was elected in the general election the following year.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum Mr Sunak supported Leave, to the dismay of David Cameron who saw him as one of the Conservatives’ brightest prospects among the new intake.

His rise through Parliament was swift. He became chief secretary to the treasury — replacing the promoted Ms Truss — and when Sajid Javid resigned in early 2020, was appointed chancellor, becoming the fifth Winchester old boy to hold the post.

Covid support scheme

Mr Sunak was faced with the most challenging financial crisis of his generation when the Covid-19 pandemic hit only a few weeks later.

His furlough scheme and deft handling of the economy won many plaudits. But his economic views fell foul of Boris Johnson, ultimately leading to his resignation, only 10 minutes after Mr Javid’s on July 5.

As the country emerged from the pandemic, some of the gloss began to wear off amid growing tension with his neighbour in No 10 and anger among Tory MPs over rising taxes as he sought to rebuild public finances.

Partygate controversy

To add to his woes, Mr Sunak was caught up in the “partygate” scandal, receiving a fine along with Mr Johnson for attending a gathering to mark the prime minister’s 56th birthday, even though he claimed to have gone into No 10 only to attend a meeting.

There were more questions when it emerged his wife had “non-domiciled” status for tax purposes, an arrangement that reportedly saved her millions, while he had kept a US green card, entitling him to permanent residence in America.

For a man known for his fondness for expensive gadgets and fashionable accessories, and who still has an apartment in Santa Monica, it all looked dangerously out of touch at a time when soaring prices were putting a financial squeeze on millions across the country.

He finished second behind Liz Truss in the Conservative Party's leadership race in the summer. That contest was marked by several bruising debates with Ms Truss, particularly over the economy, which Mr Sunak said would be badly damaged by his rival's plans for tax cuts.

The new prime minister will be the third since the last general election, after Mr Johnson and Ms Truss.

The new prime minister will also be the fourth in a row — after Theresa May, Mr Johnson and Ms Truss — to take power without a general election.

The last time an election led directly to a change of PM was in 2010, when Mr Cameron took office at the head of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, replacing Gordon Brown’s Labour government.

It is necessary to go much further back in history to find the last time a prime minister both took and left office at a general election.

This was the fate of Edward Heath, who won power at the polls in 1970, only to lose it again in 1974.

Rishi Sunak through the years — in pictures

Updated: October 25, 2022, 6:52 AM
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