image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Facing Daunting Challenges

There is a major upheaval and instability in British politics at a critical time. While selection of Rishi Sunak by the Tory MPs is re-assuring for UK ethnic minorities, celebration by the Indian and Punjabi communities should be cautious.

According to earlier reports by Indian journalists, India is avidly watching British leadership race. One Twitter user wrote that it will be a great feeling to see an Indian as the PM of a country which very ruthlessly ruled India for a very long time! Another showed images of Rishi under the slogan the Empire Strikes Back.

Such jubilation in India can raise doubts in British minds about conflict of loyalties on the part of the new PM, Rishi Sunak. Yet the need is for the UK PM to have robust arms-length trade and political relationship with other countries, including India.

This is the time when the country should be united and almost on war-footing. UK is a leading NATO member and there are global challenges on many fronts. Regrettably, at this critical time, the country is seeing a stepped decline in mature political lead. With a divided Tory Party and without the approval of the clear majority of Tory grassroots members, selection of Rishi Sunak as the next British Prime Minister is under a political cloud. If post-Brexit UK is to continue attracting foreign investment, there is need for financial as well as political stability. Yet, the country has never seen this level of political and financial chaos more associated with developing countries.

Rishi Sunak is a financial whiz-kid and a successful businessman. He was popular as Chancellor of the Exchequer when he handed out billions under government furlough scheme and saved jobs, albeit, at considerable cost. That made him popular but all that money has to be accounted for and repaid at a time of countless demands for more support. Much of the popularity he gained can be lost in a very short time.

UK was known for political stability and that attracted investment. Much credibility in that respect has been lost. It is unlikely that, with a much-divided Tory Party, that credibility will be restored before and beyond the next General Election. Regrettably, Rishi comes with some baggage which he could have done without. Like Boris, he too was caught up in the Partygate scandal, receiving a fine, along with Boris. He did issue an unreserved apology for breaching Covid regulations. Questions were raised about the tax status of his Indian wife which reportedly saved her millions, while he had retained a US Green Card, entitling him to permanent residence in the States. It is not surprising that the question of country loyalty is in many British minds. Regardless of the colour of skin, it takes many years to become an icon of the people as representing the values of the nation. That silent doubt may be in many British minds.

For British Sikh there are questions about how Rishi would deal with institutional racism. They would also be taking a keen interest in the extent to which he would take up human and minority rights issues, including those of Sikhs, in India. For example, he would know that a British Sikh, Jagtar Singh Johal, continues to be held in India for many years without trial.

We wish the new UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, well.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd