It’s been a good time for those of Indian origin at the Boris Johnson Cabinet reshuffle. At the top, including Priti Patel and Alok Sharma, is now Rishi Sunak, 39, appointed as the chancellor of the exchequer with four weeks to go for the Budget. (Rishi’s appointment, by the way, had been predicted by Lord Meghnad Desai a while ago, so we cannot say it came as a surprise). Rishi is not your typical Indian representative — and has not risen on the back of the “desi” community. He represents a very white constituency, Richmond, which was William Hague’s former hunting ground — and as such considered a very safe conservative stronghold. However, this has also meant that he and his lovely wife Akshata Murthy have had to work very hard at maintaining the good relations they inherited.
Rishi’s forte has been his brilliance — which had earlier taken him to Stanford and then with jobs with the financial sector, and companies like Goldman Sachs. His parents (his father is a doctor and mother a pharmacist and a Punjabi) were uprooted from Africa and settled down in Southampton. Even though Rishi is often referred to as the son-in-law of another brilliant man, Infosys’ N.R. Narayana Murthy, it is apparent to any who know Rishi and Akshata that they are both very hardworking and humble.
Rishi had also represented Boris at many of the pre-election debates, demonstrating confidence and competence — with a sense of humour as well. His addiction, he declared along the way, is drinking Coca Cola and he has six cavities to prove it!
As Britain grapples with Brexit, this is a challenging time for the Prime Minister. And now with Rishi’s induction, he will definitely bring fresh thinking into the Cabinet. And, let’s not forget as this young family moves into Number 11, Downing Street, there is going to be a big cheer going up for Rishi, not just in the UK but in India as well. So does that mean better trade relations in the offing?
But not only is Boris Johnson gaining more support from the Indian community, with this move, he is also likely to find favour with women voters, as he wants to push the number of women ministers in the Cabinet. He is thinking long term, of increasing the number of women parliamentary private secretaries — an unpaid post, but this might bring more women into the Tory Party. Many women would be tempted to go “conservative” as Boris tries to give them (though not quite literally) a leg up. We always knew he had a deep affection for women — but if he does demonstrate it through creating a better work environment, more respect and more high profile jobs for them, we are all for it.
While the coronavirus has arrived in the UK, the good news (if we can call it that) is that the cases have been mostly very mild. There had been nine cases so far and in all but one the patients recovered and went home. Thus, it could be that those who died in China were elderly or suffering from poor health. It seems that if you are in fairly good health, then the impact of the virus is not so severe. However, that does not mean that precautions can be lifted — as the virus spreads very fast. And even if the number of cases in China are now dropping daily, the fact is that people are still getting infected.
Rory Stewart has always been maverick character, even among the Tories. He has travelled and worked widely in the Middle East, and had earned the sobriquet of a latter day Lawrence of Arabia, about whom he had presented a BBC documentary. An award-winning author, he joined the Conservative Party and won a parliamentary seat in 2010. He served in several ministries — but he is now an Independent and has set his heart on unseating Sadiq Khan, the present mayor of London. The elections are coming up on May 7, and Rory has found a novel way of campaigning (though this system did not work for Rahul Gandhi when he went to spend a night with the dalit community). Rory has put out a call that he wants to spend the night with the people of London — and he has received around 1,500 invitations so far. He has meandered through some homes to understand how people live — so that he can resolve their issues. In his earnest appeal to “please have me to stay” — he thinks that a mayor could only get to know his or her community by “literally walking through every one of the 32 boroughs, being in other people’s shoes, seeing through their eyes, staying in their houses…” For many this might come as an intrusion, but Rory reassures them that he will continue to “visit” people even after he is elected mayor. And oh, yes, he will bring a sleeping bag and a box of chocolates…
Now perhaps if only Rahul Gandhi had brought along some chocolates....