Britain's first Hindu prime minister set to take power on Diwali
24th October 2022

Britain’s first non-white and Hindu prime minister set to take power on Diwali: Rishi Sunak’s journey from GP’s son to multi-millionaire ‘Maharajah of the Dales’ and then to No10 (at the second attempt)?

  • GP’s son from Southampton was heavily beaten in Tory election in September and went to backbenches
  • But he is on the cusp of power after her chaotic premiership lasted just 44 days and ended last week
  • Could become the UK’s first non-white and Hindu leader on Diwali holy day today, if Mordaunt pulls out

Rishi Sunak is on the cusp of taking power today to cap a meteoric rise to power that seemed all but over less than two months ago. 

The GP’s son from Southampton, whose Indian parents immigrated to Britain, retreated to the backbenches in September after being swept aside by Liz Truss in the battle to replace Boris Johnson.

But after her chaotic premiership ended in ignominy after just 44 days the Richmond MP is poised to be appointed as the UK’s first non-white and Hindu leader on Diwali, one of the religion’s major festivals. The UK’s first – and until now only – minority prime minister was Benjamin Disraeli, who was Jewish, in 1874. 

He will find out at 2pm today whether he will face a challenge from Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, or whether she will either withdraw or fail to get enough MPs to back her bid.

If he is confirmed today it will cap a political journey that only began seven years ago when he replaced William Hague in his Yorkshire seat at the 2015 election. 

 Mr Sunak only got his first ministerial job four years ago but two years later became Chancellor of the Exchequer aged 39.

The GP’s son from Southampton retreated to the backbenches in September after being swept aside by Liz Truss in the battle to replace Boris Johnson.

But after her chaotic premiership ended in ignominy after just 44 days the Richmond MP is poised to be appointed as the UK’s first non-white and Hindu leader on Diwali, one of the religion’s major festivals.

Mr Sunak’s father was an NHS GP and his mother ran a chemist’s. He has previously spoken about how his Asian identity matters to him, telling the BBC: ‘I’m a first generation immigrant. My parents emigrated here, so you’ve got this generation of people who are born here, their parents were not born here, and they’ve come to this country to make a life.’

After Oxford he studied at California’s Stanford University where he met future wife Akshata Murty.

Mr Sunak married an Indian tech billionaire’s daughter and built a multi million-pound fortune that saw him dubbed the ‘Maharajah of the Dales’. 

His parents saved up to send him to the £42,000-per-year Winchester College, and he went on to attend Oxford University, where he studied PPE. 

After Oxford he studied at California’s Stanford University where he met future wife Akshata Murty. Her father, NR Narayana Murthy, is India’s sixth-wealthiest man thanks to his ownership of multinational business technology giant Infosys.

The couple married in her home city of Bangalore in 2009 in a two-day ceremony attended by 1,000 guests.

Thanks to his own banking fortune and that of his wife he is believed to be one of the richest members of Parliament, and lives with his family in a magnificent Georgian manor house in the small village of Kirby Sigston, just outside Northallerton in North Yorkshire.

Mr Sunak has praised his his father-in-law’s favourite saying: ‘In God we trust — but everyone else needs to bring data to the table.’ 

After the couple returned to Britain, Sunak worked for a London hedge fund before setting up his own business, Theleme Partners, in 2010, with an initial fund of $700million. He was based in the UK and the United States before entering politics and winning Richmond in 2015.

Rishi Sunak’s rise to the top was surprising and took much of the country by surprise. 

A junior local government minister under Theresa May, he was elevated to chief secretary to the Treasury by Boris Johnson, serving under Sajid Javid. 

But in February 2020 he was handed the top job of Chancellor when Javid sensationally quit amid bitter infighting between No10 and No11 involving Dominic Cummings. He was told to sack his chief aides and walked out after refusing.

Mr Sunak was a relative unknown, but was quickly thrust into the limelight when Covid struck the country weeks later. 

He oversaw a massive campaign of public spending, the largest ever known in peacetime, including the furlough scheme that prevented millions of people losing their job but took UK borrowing to eyewatering levels.

The end of his time as chancellor was as swift as his assent. After months of chaos under Boris Johnson, Mr Sunak followed Mr Javid out of the Cabinet, resigning over the behaviour of the prime minister.

Minutes after Javid  stepped down as health secretary he too walked out on the PM. Their decision sparked an exodus of ministers that forced Boris to finally call an end to his scandal-plagued premiership.

Mr Sunak was the clear favourite of Tory MPs during the summer leadership election. But he lost out after it became clear that Conservative Party members preferred Liz Truss.

His economic position during the campaign that tackling soaring inflation tokes by energy prices was more important than tax cuts promises by Liz Truss went down badly.

It was a bad-tempered contest, with Mr Sunak lashing out at her ‘fairytale economics’ live on television. But in the end he appears to have been proved right, with her time in power lasting just weeks as the markets reacted badly to her attempts to stimulate growth with borrowing-funded tax cuts.

In one of the televised hustings Mr Sunak defended his record in No 11 against criticism that the Uk had the highest tax burden in 70 years.

‘I don’t think the responsible thing to do right now is launch into some unfunded spree of borrowing and more debt, that will just make inflation worse, it will make the problem longer,’ he said.

Ms Truss pinned the blame on the Bank of England, saying ‘we have inflation because of our monetary policy, that we haven’t been tough enough on the monetary supply, that’s the way that I would address that issue’.

But the former chancellor told her: ‘Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairytale.’

Ms Truss responded: ‘I think it is wrong to put taxes up.’

Mr Sunak also faced anger from some Tory members who felt he was to blame for Boris Johnson quitting. But he also received support and defended himself, often robustly, in the face of critical audience questions.

Mr Sunak’s victory would also come after questions about his and his wife’s tax affairs.

In April he was was cleared of wrong-doing after after it was revealed he had held a US Green Card – which carries American residency and tax requirements – while in office.

But Lord Geidt, the adviser on ministerial standards cleared Mr Sunak of wrongdoing, after the Chancellor referred himself for investigation. 

There was also uproar over Ms Murty’s tax status and her shareholding in Indian tech firm Infosys, while living in a grace-and-favour apartment in Downing Street. 

Ms Murty legally avoided paying a huge UK tax bill by paying £30,000 a year to register as based in India.

This is the extraordinary web of homes and businesses with links to Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata, a heiress to a billion dollar fortune


Rishi Sunak was hit by a political backlash over the news that his heiress wife Akshata Murty was domiciled in India for tax purposes

The India-born 42-year-old later said she would give up her right to pay only ‘international tax’ on her foreign fortune. 

The move, designed to save Mr Sunak’s political career, is likely to cost Ms Murty millions of pounds a year in extra tax. 

Ms Sunak insisted she hasn’t ‘done anything wrong’ while accusing his critics of ‘smearing her to get at him’. 

Allies of Mr Sunak had already suggested his situation had previously been cleared by the peer.

In his May 2021 annual statement the independent adviser on ministers interests said he had ‘gone through the individual returns’ of members of the Cabinet, including their tax affairs and the interested of their spouses.

He went on to say that ‘any issues have been resolved to my satisfaction’, suggesting he was happy with Akshata Murty’s tax status, her shareholding in Indian tech firm Infosys, and the Green Card.

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