Rishi Sunak’s rise triggers a war of words back in India

Ruling BJP defends itself by citing the ascension of Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh after other parties lament the ‘majoritarian nature’ of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre

October 25, 2022 06:28 pm | Updated October 29, 2022 08:38 pm IST - NEW DELHI

An artist applies finishing touches to a painting of Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Mumbai on October 25, 2022.

An artist applies finishing touches to a painting of Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Mumbai on October 25, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

A war of words broke out between the ruling BJP and Opposition parties as Indian-origin Rishi Sunak was appointed as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. While the Opposition lamented the alleged majoritarian nature of the Modi Government, the BJP cited A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's and Dr. Manmohan Singh's rise as the country's president and prime minister.

The BJP also rejected any parallel drawn between Italian-origin Sonia Gandhi not getting prime ministership in 2004 and Britain's ruling party choosing Mr. Sunak as its leader.

"Can't differentiate between Italy-born Sonia [who refused to take Indian citizenship for several decades after marriage with Rajiv] and U.K.-born Rishi with Indian ancestry," BJP's foreign affairs department head Vijay Chauthaiwale said responding to a Twitter user.

Reactions from BJP leaders came after leaders from various Opposition parties, including the Congress, appeared to take a swipe at the BJP while lauding the rise of Mr. Sunak.

PDP president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said it was a proud moment that Indian-origin Mr. Sunak was elected as U.K.’s Prime Minister but it should also serve as a reminder that Britain has accepted an ethnic minority member as its premier but “we are still shackled by divisive and discriminatory laws like NRC and CAA”.

Hitting out at Ms. Mufti’s remarks, former law minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, said, “Some leaders have become hyperactive against majoritarianism after the election of Rishi Sunak as PM of U.K. Gently reminding them about the extraordinary Presidency of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh as PM for 10 years. A distinguished tribal leader Droupadi Murmu is now our President.”

Meanwhile, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh asserted that India was a shining example of celebrating plurality and diversity but the past eight years of the Modi Government have reversed the philosophy of ‘unity in diversity’ so much that even England has started giving lessons. Mr. Ramesh said the BJP under former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also believed in the Nehruvian philosophy of inclusive leadership. 

“It was during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Prime Ministership that Dr. Kalam became President. There is a world of difference between Vajpayee ji and Narendra Modi. I believe Vajpayee ji was deeply inspired by [Jawaharlal] Nehru and Mr. Modi seems hell bent on wiping out Nehru’s legacy,” Mr. Ramesh said.  

Interestingly, amid Congress leaders like P. Chidambaram and Shashi Tharoor tweeting that Rishi Sunak’s rise as British Prime Minister can serve as a lesson for India, Mr. Ramesh said many minorities have become the President and Chief Minister in the past.

"Those who get a mandate will become prime minister. Democratically, if someone is elected, we don't have a problem. England's party has made him the prime minister, we welcome it," said Mr. Ramesh. "In our country, Dr. Zakir Hussain first became the President in 1967, then Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed became the President and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and if I keep giving you examples, Barkatullah Khan became chief minister and A.R. Antulay also became the chief minister," he said.

Asked about the remarks by Congress leaders like Mr. Tharoor and Mr. Chidambaram, Mr. Ramesh said, "you should ask them".

On Monday, Mr. Chidambaram tweeted: "First Kamala Harris, now Rishi Sunak. The people of the U.S. and the U.K. have embraced the non-majority citizens of their countries and elected them to high office in government. I think there is a lesson to be learned by India and the parties that practise majoritarianism."

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