By Ghulam Haider
Rishi Sunak is poised to make history as Britain’s first prime minister of color, a milestone for a polyglot nation that has become more ethnically diverse in recent decades, albeit one roiled by occasional anti-immigrant fervor.
Mr. Sunak, who rose swiftly from newbie member of Parliament to become chancellor of the Exchequer at age 39, was born in Southampton, on the southern English coast, to parents of Indian heritage who emigrated from British colonial East Africa six decades ago.
His father was a family doctor; his mother ran a pharmacy. On his official website, Mr. Sunak says that among his first experiences in business was working in his mother’s small shop. “I grew up watching my parents serve our local community with dedication,” he writes.
Mr. Sunak’s grandparents were originally from Punjab. He has said that he experienced little racism growing up, but recounted in a BBC interview an incident from his teenage years that has stayed with him. While with his two younger siblings at a fast-food restaurant, he said, he heard some other patrons refer to them using a racist epithet.
More on the Political Turmoil in Britain
- Brexit Fault Lines: Some experts link Liz Truss’s downfall to the ripple effect of Britain’s departure from the European Union and the bitter factions it created in her Conservative Party.
- Boris Johnson Drops Out: The former prime minister pulled out of the race to succeed Ms. Truss, ending a bid to reclaim the job he lost three months ago amid a cascade of scandals.
- Political Primaries: Are American-style primary elections driving Britain’s dysfunction? The rise and fall of Ms. Truss may hint at deeper changes caused by putting party leaders to a vote.
- Lifelong Allowance: Ms. Truss is eligible for a taxpayer-funded annual payout for the rest of her life. Some say she shouldn’t be allowed to receive it.
His parents saved money to send him to Winchester College, one of Britain’s most elite and academically rigorous fee-paying schools. After graduating with a top degree from Oxford University and then attending Stanford University, he went on to make a fortune in finance, including a spell at Goldman Sachs, before winning a seat in Parliament in 2015, representing a constituency in Yorkshire.
He became chancellor in 2020, and his popularity surged during the Covid pandemic when the Treasury dispensed billions to save jobs and support struggling Britons.
While at Stanford, he met his future wife, Akshata Murty, a fashion designer whose father, Narayana Murthy, co-founded the technology giant Infosys and is one of India’s richest men. They have two children and, according to news media reports, own homes in London, Yorkshire and Santa Monica, Calif.
But Mr. Sunak’s meteoric rise slowed this year with revelations that Ms. Murty had limited her tax exposure in Britain. After the furor, and days of negative headlines, she volunteered to pay the extra tax. Mr. Sunak was also criticized when it emerged that he had retained a U.S. green card, which would allow him to live permanently in the United States. He gave it up before making his first visit to the country as chancellor last October.
He has spoken of balancing his dual identities, as part of a generation born in Britain but with origins elsewhere. As a child, he told the BBC, he would spend weekends at the Hindu temple and at the matches of the local Southampton soccer club, the Saints.
“You do everything,” he said. “You do both.”
His victory on Monday coincided with Diwali, the annual Hindu festival that marks new beginnings. Mr. Sunak has talked about his faith as a source of strength, and when elected to Parliament, he swore his oath of allegiance on the Bhagavad Gita, the most revered Hindu text.
But in Britain, a politician’s religious affiliation is rarely a dominant topic, and Mr. Sunak has not made his faith a core element of his political identity.
“I am open about being a Hindu,” he told India’s Business Standard newspaper in 2020. But he went on to compare religion in Britain and America and said: “Religion pervades political life there, and that is not the case here, thankfully.”