David Cameron’s attempt to ‘attract minority-community middle classes who will increasingly vote Conservative if the Tories show them respect’ had led to a counter-intuitive recruitment of the likes of Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, Priti Patel and many more into the party’s ranks. Sceptics point out that out of 65 ethnic minority members, 63 per cent are still Labour and only 34 per cent are Conservatives. Some even snigger at the traditional ‘divide and rule’ tactic of using brown faces to serve the elites, as an effective ‘mask’ that is basically the opposite of racial integration. Be that as it may, times have changed since Keith Vaz became the Labour Party’s MP for Leicester East in 1987 and the first Asian origin Minister (he had an unceremonious exit after a scandal).
Today, Asian ethnicity (particularly Indian) is punching above its weight, and Rishi Sunak is amongst the foremost names bandied to replace Boris Johnson. Expectedly, the Indian diaspora in Britain and Indians in India take vicarious pride at the arrival of ‘one of their own’ on the centerstage. As the single largest ethnic minority group (2.15 per cent of the total population) in Britain, Indian-Brits make up almost a quarter of the total ethnic minorities. Places like Leicester, Birmingham and Harrow have a substantially higher concentration – though to Sunak’s credit, his constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire is traditionally Conservative and a predominantly ‘white’ bastion. Locals guffaw that unlike other parts of Britain, there has been no immigration in Yorkshire since the Norman conquest in 1066.
Herein, acceptance for the former Head Boy of Winchester College (amongst the foremost public schools) who did his mandatory degree from Oxford and got a Fulbright scholarship at Stanford is academically and socially impressive. In a perverse manner, videos have even resurfaced of Sunak claiming rather pompously that he has, ‘friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper-class, I have friends who are, you know, working class’, who then corrects himself infamously, ‘well, not working class’! However, the most telling part of this old clip is wherein he expands on his friendship with Etonians and elites in society and then says straight-faced, “I don’t think being Asian is a defining feature!” Clearly the bright young man knew as early as 2001 that romancing his undeniably ‘Desi’ credentials was a tad problematic, and he needed to be one of the ‘lads’ to ingratiate himself with local politics.
Frankly, it says a lot less about his individual ambitions and the means of pursuing the same, as much as it says about Indians at large, who seem to swell their chests with vicarious pride. Years back when Bobby Jindal became the first IndianAmerican Governor in the United States, there was much joy across India. The euphoric sense of support reached a crescendo when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2016 Presidential Elections. Like Rishi Sunak, who is on the more traditionalist-conservative side of British politics, Jindal too wasn’t part of the usual Democratic pack (which tends to be more liberal, inclusive, and accepting of diversities), and was part of the decidedly more rightwing Republican Party.
Soon enough, Hindu-born Piyush (later, Bobby) Jindal shared details of his conversion to Catholicism at a young age, with sharp opinions against abortion and stem cell research. The much-ridiculed portrait of his own in his office with a skin colour akin to a pale Caucasian was still tolerable compared to his views about certain places with Muslim ‘nogo zones’. Soon enough, the Indian-American community that had rallied for his success started feeling abandoned and used, as Jindal plainly stated, “I am done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans… We are not Indian-Americans, AfricanAmericans, IrishAmericans.” Clearly, Jindal was feeling queasy about his identity (though he had no trouble in accepting the help and critical support, initially). This however was not the case of similar ‘abandonment’ of cultural identity with the second Indian-American Governor, Nikki Haley (also from the Republican Party) who embraced her ‘connect’, even as she too had converted to Chritianity and was as proud and patriotic an American as many. Similar hullabaloo accompanied the India-born US Attorney Preet Bharara, who had to endure taints like ‘Uncle Tom’, suggesting specific overenthusiasm in going after people from his own ethnicity, as a means of suggesting his own unbiasedness.
To be fair to Preet, he was generally aggressive and assertive in law enforcement and many of his victims did include high-profile Indians (including a diplomat), though as he too plainly clarified, “Indian critics were angry because even though I hailed from India, I appeared to be going out of my way to act American and serve the interests of America. Which was also kind of odd, because I am American and the word ‘United States’ is actually in my title.” Harsh as it may sound, it is true that the immigrant Indians in native lands need to serve their adopted nations to the best of their capabilities, without any preference or tangible bias towards any other land, as that is what nationality is about i.e. singular loyalty. It is an important lesson that is forgotten by emotional Indians who willy-nilly insist and believe that there ought to be residual loyalty to the native land, beyond personal emotions. US Vice President Kamala Harris who conflated her mixedrace identity more effectively than most in her campaign, too endured murmurs of her supposedly downplaying her Indianness towards upping her ‘black’ Jamaican roots.
In terms of vote bank stakes, ‘black’ credentials certainly made more electoral sense, though Kamala could never be accused of falsifying or disavowing her biracial identity ~ more importantly, her governance outlook towards India remained without favour or disfavour, as would be expected of any American. Perhaps the lesson is for us to nuance our pride and rein in our own expectations from those who immigrated from here, as it is sometimes unfair for them to demonstrate any tangible bias, beyond a point. After all, this diaspora did choose to surrender its allegiance to one sovereign in favour of the other, and to that extent they must be duty bound to honour that. Sunak, Jindal or Harris are success stories of Indian ethnicities (but different nationalities), nothing more and nothing less.