On October 25 this year, the current monarch of the United Kingdom, King Charles III, confirmed Rishi Sunak as the country’s prime minister. This was the first time that the highest post in the executive branch of a leading European country was occupied by an ethnic Indian, which attracted special attention in the commentaries on this event.
And although it was Rishi Sunak’s parents who left the former main British colony forever, and he himself was born on the territory of Great Britain, grew up, and was educated in an environment as well as under the influence of the traditions of the British elite, the author also believes that the very factor of his ethno-religious affiliation acquires a significant character in the current world politics.
First, this fact fits into the general, increasingly surreal, development of the European establishment not only rejecting any signs of Christianity but moving to directly anti-Christian starting positions. The new prime minister stands out from the circle of the British political elite in almost nothing except one thing: like all his ancestors, he professes Hinduism. It is hard to say whether it is a coincidence or not, but the date on which Rishi Sunak took office fell on the festival of Diwali, the most important festival in Hinduism. Among the British, who tend to treat everything with irony, there was a joke about the possibility of introducing a caste system into their daily lives. That is, something they cannot get rid of in India itself, despite all their efforts.
Secondly, it is worth noting that in the ancestral homeland of the new British prime minister, another wave of no small euphoria has broken out. This has already been the second such wave, as the first followed the mass inclusion of representatives of the Indian community in various agencies of the current US administration. One half-Indian is Vice President Kamala Harris, who occupied a prominent place in India’s media space for several months before and after the last presidential election in the United States. However, some buzz in the Indian press on that occasion abruptly subsided after her words that she felt she was a “proud American” and some of her own statements about the state of affairs on human rights issues in the Union Territory of “Jammu and Kashmir.”
Another “American-Indian,” Daleep Singh, now Deputy National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, has also contributed to the understanding in India that ethnic Indians who hold certain important positions in the United States are primarily Americans working in the interest of their country. During a trip to India in April of this year, he began rather clumsily and openly agitating the leadership there for refusing to buy Russian energy supplies. The most important “argument” here was the statement that in the event of a Chinese attack on India, Russia (“unlike the United States”) will not help.
There is no doubt that the ethnic Indian Rishi Sunak, once at the head of the British government, in his practical work will be guided primarily by the interests of his country. And so far, there is a reason to believe that he will serve even longer (than the above mentioned American “Indians”) as a source of positive expectations (almost certainly inflated) in his ancestral homeland. For in the sum of the considerations that guided the real puppet masters of what was going on in the British political arena in this case, the “ethnic factor” may have played a vital role in determining the future prime minister’s long-term foreign policy sphere of influence.
The very need for a radical overhaul of the long-term foreign policy strategy arose with the UK’s exit from the EU, which has dragged on for four and a half years since the June 2016 referendum on the issue. Its outcome, according to the author, was accidental in nature, and then the various UK governments had to act, as the saying goes, “by feel and by circumstance.” The emergence of the mentioned strategy was a definite result of a long movement in this mode. Not the other way around.
By the mid-2010s, London had come to the correct conclusion that the process of shifting the center of gravity of world processes from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region was irreversible. A direct consequence of this realization was the question of finding supporting countries here to resume the search for luck in the region “East of Suez.” The very region from which Great Britain, at the end of its holding the status of a world power, withdrew in the late 1960s. As it seemed, for good.
Quite naturally, the first in the list of such supporting countries was Japan, with which Britain gradually developed what is now called “constructive relations” since the second half of the 19th century. Interrupted for a short period of 1941-1945 due to the well-known misunderstandings that occurred at that time.
Three months after the (“advisory”) referendum on Brexit, a representative delegation led by Prime Minister Theresa May traveled to Tokyo, where her colleague at the time, an incorrigible optimist (who tragically passed) Shinzo Abe calmed the inconsolable guest with the words, “Everything is going to be just fine soon enough.”
The development of Theresa May’s planned course of “tilting eastward” fell largely within the purview of Liz Truss, who headed a “special department” in the government. Truss successfully mastered the task. Thanks largely to her efforts, the United Kingdom will become a full member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and economic alliance, whose unspoken leader is Japan, by the end of this year.
In this connection, the frequent derogatory remarks on the subject of Liz Truss’s qualification as a statesman seem to be unfounded. If the main issue is the quality of the economic program she proposed during her short time at the helm of government (which was reportedly the main reason for her leaving), then, as the saying goes, “it’s early days,” and we will have to see how her successor, Rishi Sunak, will cope with it.
Ultimately, the semi-intuitive “movement east” was conceptualized, occupying an important place in a government document published in March 2021 under the ambitious title “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”. Notably, in its introductory article, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson states, “By 2030, we will be deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence in support of mutually-beneficial trade, shared security and values.”
At the same time, London appears to have drawn attention to the fact that roughly midway along the route to Japan lies India, which is growing in importance and with which the United Kingdom has until recently enjoyed a period of close, if conflicting, relations. Why not resume them on a new basis, especially since there is a similar desire?
In this respect, the visit of the same Boris Johnson to India in April this year was a milestone. Commentators are fairly unanimous in their opinion that the quite productive results for both countries of the talks held in New Delhi with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi were largely due to the fact that the guest (unlike partners from the US and the EU) did not bother the hosts with talks on the topic of “Russian aggression in Ukraine” and the need to refrain from buying Russian energy sources.
And although Rishi Sunak uttered some anti-Russian phrases even before and then after he became Prime Minister, if he faces, among others, the task of further developing relations with his ancestral homeland, then the mentioned experience of one of his predecessors will be very useful to him.
Meanwhile, Narendra Modi was almost the first of his foreign colleagues to congratulate Rishi Sunak on the eve of his confirmation as prime minister. In a message posted on social media, the Indian leader expressed an “impatient desire” to begin implementing a long-term plan (the “Road Map 2030” adopted during Boris Johnson’s visit) for developing bilateral relations.
Three days later, Sunak called Modi and presented himself as “the visible embodiment of historic British-Indian relations.” During the conversation, the need for “early conclusion” of a bilateral free trade agreement was mentioned as a priority.
In India, the appointment of a fellow Indian to the highest office in the cabinet of members is generally welcomed. However, there are also voices of caution, because Rishi Sunak will once again be the spokesman for the interests of a completely different country, which, to say the least, do not always coincide with the interests of India itself, primarily with regards to the nature of relations with Russia and China.
The author does not doubt that New Delhi is in a position to recognize these differences and also to be guided mainly by its own interests in the further (objectively conditioned) development of relations with London.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.