Flying to New Delhi for the G20 summit this weekend, Rishi Sunak said how “special” it was to visit India for the first time as Britain’s first prime minister of Indian origin.

India was “very close to me”, he said, adding that he was “delighted to be back” after years of being unable to make his annual visit due to high-level political reasons.

“It’s great to have Akshata with me,” he said of his wife, Akshata Murty, co-founder of Infosys and India’s richest man. Daughter of NR Narayana Murthy, one of them.

“I read somewhere someone called me an Indian son-in-law, and I hope that’s affectionate,” Sunak quipped, half-jokingly of the IT billionaire.

Sunak’s speech to reporters on a plane for a two-day gathering of major economies was one of the most candid hints at his heritage in public office, a marked shift to emphasize his role as Britain’s first South Asian prime minister. Status when he addressed the nation as he moved into tenth place.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference with reporters on a flight to Delhi, India September 7, 2023
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on a flight to Delhi that India is “very close to me” © Dan Kitwood/PA

Sunak could say he was delighted to have the chance to escape the UK after a difficult week in which he was caught in a spiraling crisis of concrete-prone collapse, a terror suspect’s escape from Wandsworth Prison and a dangerous second by-election troubled by the prospect. Former Conservative minister Chris Pincher resigns.

Sunak is trying to take a brave stance in the face of his Conservative Party’s dismal position in the polls, where it trails Labor by an average of 18 percentage points.

He insisted that “we are passionate” and “hungry to win”, and claimed he was “utterly confident” his government would be able to help Britons in time for next year’s general election.

Faced with pointed questions from opposition parties and parents frustrated by the closure of their children’s schools, Sunak hopes his trip to India will show him as a world statesman when the cameras roll back to Britain.

Sunak already has a new strategic partnership with Singapore, which he will announce on Saturday ahead of a meeting with Singaporean Foreign Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Government insiders also hope that a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit will spur trade deal talks.

While Modi hailed Sunak as an example of a “living bridge” between India and the UK and expressed support for transforming the “historical relationship” between the two countries into a “modern partnership”, India was out of touch in the trade talks. The name is tough.

Whitehall officials said Sunak had put a lot of political effort into finding a deal that would have made Britain the first European country to strike a trade deal with India.

Sunak told AsiaNews international agency on Friday that the two sides had made “huge progress” in signing the agreement, but separately warned British journalists that a deal was “not a given”. India’s requirements for asymmetric market access and visas remain sticking points.

Ahead of the visit, Downing Street insiders sought to emphasize Sunak’s willingness to engage in tough talks with Modi over the war in Ukraine, on which India remained neutral while continuing to import vast quantities of Russian oil and weapons. However, Sunak was more cautious when taking questions from reporters.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty meet local schoolchildren at the British Council in New Delhi on September 8, 2023
Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, met local schoolchildren at the British Council in New Delhi on Friday © Dan Kitwood/PA

In private talks with Modi, he also dodged the question of whether he would raise the case of jailed Briton Jaghta Singh Johar, who faces the death penalty in India. Sunak has come under pressure from more than 70 British lawmakers to intervene directly.

Britain’s relationship with India has experienced some difficulties since Sunak finished tenth last year.

In March, Sikh separatists in London tore up the flag of the Indian High Commission during a protest, a move that angered Modi’s government and prompted police in New Delhi to remove security barricades outside the British High Commission in what appeared to be a move. kind of revenge.

It remains to be seen whether Sunak’s Indian heritage will allow him to wield real leverage in signing a trade deal with Modi. Conservative MP Shailesh Vara, also of Indian descent and patron of the Conservative Friends of India, said Sunak’s legacy could “help pave the way for a deal that would benefit both countries. agreement”.

He added that Sunak’s background had ramifications at home, with many of the 1.6 million British Indians “very happy that one of their own became prime minister”.

On the electoral front, Tim Bell, a professor of political science at Queen Mary University of London, said a large proportion of the Indian diaspora in the UK had “shifted to the Conservative Party for quite some time”, in stark contrast to British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis .

Bell said it was “intuitively plausible” that Sunak had accelerated or amplified the trend of British Indians voting Conservative, but warned there was no hard evidence.

Poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Mood welcoming delegates to G20 summit in New Delhi, India

Insiders in the British government hope that a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit will spur trade deal talks © Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

While large swathes of New Delhi were put under lockdown by local authorities this weekend, Sunak attended a series of cultural events outside the official summit.

On Friday, Muti and he were mobbed by schoolchildren as they visited the offices of the British Council, which runs cultural and educational programs outside the UK.

In addition to laying a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial on Sunday with the G20 leaders and their spouses, the couple will visit Akshardham, one of the capital’s most important Hindu temples, for blessings and private prayers.

Sunak’s public embrace of Hinduism has drawn attention. Last month, he appeared at a Hindu religious event at Cambridge University and said “Jai Siya Ram” – “Glory to Sita and Rama”, a traditional greeting for Hindus in northern India.

“I come here today not as Prime Minister but as a Hindu,” Sunak’s remarks were filmed and broadcast widely in India on August 15, the date of the 1947 The day the British Empire ended.

Alex Ellis, the British High Commissioner in New Delhi, reflected on India’s rise in the global order and changing UK-India relations at a G20 keynote meeting organized by Indian broadcaster NDTV last month, saying: ” Have you ever imagined that one day, a person living in 10 Downing Street on August 15th, would you say Jai Siya Ram?”

Ellis quoted the governor of British India who presided over the Partition of Bengal in 1905 as saying: “Lord Curzon might choke.”

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