[This is an excerpt from an article in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.]
A brown-skinned Hindu man of Indian heritage is now leading a country that ruled India for two centuries, and the appointment of Rishi Sunak to the highest political office in the United Kingdom may have a great deal of symbolic value for India in particular. This inarguable irony may serve as a wellspring of enormous pride for some native Indians, yet one must ask whether the appointment has the potential to result in any substantial changes. When it comes to the relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and India, are we going to see the bilateral connections go through a complete overhaul, or will it be ‘business as usual’ under the Sunak government? Because many members of Sunak’s family were born and raised in India, he will be especially sensitive to allegations of favouritism and criticisms if he decides to excessively focus on India during his time in office. After all, now he is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and he must look out for the interests of the people who live in that country. As a result, believing that Sunak will go above and beyond his predecessors to repair relations with India is nothing more than wishful thinking at this point. His ancestry is Indian, but he was born in the United Kingdom. Mainstream and social media began to pay attention to Sunak during his election campaign because, among other things, he shared photographs of himself worshipping a Hindu god and a cow.
Introduction to Special edition: India at 75
Britain hopes Sunak is the strong ethical and efficient leader it needs
Sunak has made it very plain on several occasions that one of his objectives is to change the dynamics between the United Kingdom and India. Specifically, he wants to transform the relationship into one that involves more two-way trade. He wants to facilitate easier access to the Indian market for businesses in the United Kingdom. In addition to this, he gave his word that he would work to improve relations between India and the United Kingdom by promoting programmes that allow students and businesses from both nations to engage in cultural and professional exchanges that are beneficial to both parties. In the fight against visa limitations and backlogs for people with high potential, Sunak has been at the forefront of the battle.
After all, will he continue with the same policies, schemes and efforts that the previous prime minister, Boris Johnson, had informed India about during his visit to India in 2021, which intended to expand economic and strategic relationships with the country? At least, that is what the reports are suggesting; the achievement of the top position by Rishi Sunak has rekindled hopes that those policies and efforts will reach much-needed completion. Sunak is a staunch supporter of the notion that India will assume a leadership role in the Indo-Pacific region. Sunak has championed India’s participation in the global economy and believes that a free trade agreement (FTA) will serve as a driving force.
Boris Johnson had stated that he would give the FTA a definite form before Divali in October 2022. Even though the festival has ended, we have not seen any real movement in this regard. In May 2021, the two nations signed a mutual defence pact to co-produce arms, ammunition and combat aircraft to bolster their respective militaries and armies. Here again, no real progress has been made so far
Abhishika Sharma is an Associate Professor, Journalism and Mass Communication, Manipal University Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.