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Is Rishi Sunak set to become UK’s first Indian origin Prime Minister?

File photograph of Rishi Sunak lighting a diya (Photo: Twitter)

Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of Exchequer, is within striking distance of becoming the next Prime Minister of the UK by Monday afternoon. His main contender and staunch rival former prime minister Boris Johnson withdrew his candidature on Sunday evening.

With Johnson’s withdrawal, Sunak’s only and main rival in the Conservative Party hustings is Penny Mordaunt – former defence secretary. In the leadership election race in July too, Mordaunt was trailing Sunak until Lizz Truss—who was behind both at the third spot—beat them in the race to become the prime minister.

Sunak has garnered the support of around 142 members of the parliament while Mordaunt has the ayes from around 29 MPs. Johnson’s approximately 54 allies have not yet announced their switching of support.

Significantly, some of Sunak’s major rivals have switched their loyalty towards him. Suella Braverman, home secretary under Truss and attorney general under Johnson has stated her support for Sunak as Conservative Party leader and British Prime Minister.

Former health secretary Sajid Javid voiced support for Sunak saying that the Conservative Party can remain united under his leadership.

Sunday witnessed comic moments in British politics as Nadhim Jahawi, chancellor under Johnson, lent support to both Johnson and Sunak in a matter of an hour.

Johnson had rushed back to the UK from a vacation on hearing of Truss’ resignation. He also held a meeting with Sunak to discuss party leadership but failed to convince both Sunak and Mordaunt from stepping aside. The meeting led the two leaders to bury the hatchet and reduce friction among the fractious Conservative MPs.

Keen to make a comeback bid but faced with Sunak’s popularity, Johnson eventually announced his withdrawal on Sunday evening leaving the field open for Sunak. In a statement, Johnson said: “I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time”.

On his part, Sunak also issued a statement praising Johnson, saying the former prime minister led the country through some of the toughest times—the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and Brexit.

Johnson’s withdrawal will also help heal the infighting in the Conservative Party which is aware of its sliding popularity among the masses. The next general elections are slated for 2024 and the Conservative party members are most unimpressed with the wranglings in the party.

At just 42, Sunak has received both brickbats and bouquets in his seven-year-old political career. He has been lauded in his role as the Chancellor during the pandemic where he supported the small businesses and also families at the bottom end of the economic ladder. His supporters also laud him for lending a helping hand to the National Health Service (NHS) and ensuring that vaccines were provided to the masses.

Sunak has his share of detractors who accused him of pulling down Johnson and initiating a revolt in the party. Political experts say that there is a hint of racism from among the grassroots members of the Conservative Party, many of whom do not see Sunak as being ‘British enough’.

On the positive side, Sunak is seen as earnest, exceptionally bright and one who can deliver the UK out of the economic and financial crisis.

In today’s hustings, if Sunak gets the support of over a 100 MPs and Mordaunt fails to cross the three-digit mark, then Sunak will take over as the new prime minister—the third prime minister this year. However, if both get the support of over 100 MPs, then the battle will continue into the next round to see who emerges as the clear winner.

With Sunak getting the ayes from his former opponents, he just might deliver a Diwali gift to millions of British Indians.

Also Read: Rishi Sunak adopts tough stand on China to woo Conservative Party members in poll battle vs Liz Truss