Orange and pink fireworks colored the sky over south London on Monday, as members of the local community in South Asia celebrated Diwali.
This year, the holiday is aligned with Rishi SunakThe 42-year-old became the first British Prime Minister of Indian descent, as Hindus like him celebrated the Festival of Lights.
Sunak’s rise to power divided opinion among South Asians in the United Kingdom. Some believe his historic appointment is a moment of pride and a sign of Britain’s social progress, while others point to his vast wealth, educated private background and adoption of hard-right politics.
Evidence for this wide range of viewpoints was clear when CNN spoke to South Asians in London’s Tooting borough – home to a bustling immigrant community within the British capital.
Sparkling fabric shops, places of worship and food vendors serving Indian sweets along with fresh fruits and vegetables dot the streets, with family-run shops on almost every corner.
Suburbs of London are steeped in the rich and diverse heritage of their residents, with people of color making up more than half the population, according to 2011 UK Census.
The same data found that nearly 30% of people in Tooting identify as ‘Asian’ or ‘British Asian’, with English, Urdu and Gujarati among the most commonly spoken languages.
“I think it’s particularly good and auspicious on Diwali, to be appointed,” Raj Singh, a Punjab Sikh member of the Khalsa Centre, a local Sikh temple, told CNN.
“It is a sign of progress, but only at the top. Rishi Sunak comes from a very privileged background,” the 58-year-old lawyer said.
Singh said he believes Sunak’s rise is a sign that only South Asian politicians with enormous social and economic privileges can “break the glass ceiling”.
Earlier this year, your age and wife Akshata Murtithe daughter of an Indian billionaire, appeared on The Sunday Times Rich List Among the 250 richest people in the UK. The newspaper estimated their combined net worth at 730 million pounds ($826 million).
Sunak has received a flurry of congratulations from other politicians of South Asian descent, including former Conservative minister Sajid Javid and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is affiliated with the opposition Labor Party. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent Sunak his “special Diwali wishes”, calling it a “bridge” between the two countries.
Outside the capital, Sanjay Chandarana, who heads a Hindu temple in Southampton, southern England, co-founded by Sunak’s grandparents in 1971, He told CNN That Sunak’s promotion was “Barack Obama’s moment” for the UK, referring to America’s first black president.
“I think this is important for the South Asian community…considering he is the UK’s first South Asian Prime Minister. It is something I think all residents of Tooting should be proud of,” said Ertaza Nasir, a 24-year-old restaurant manager in Tooting. South Asia “I never thought this day would come.”
Anil Shah, a 75-year-old Gujarati Hindu shop owner, said Sunak’s leadership “proves that we have Indians smart enough to do the job”.
However, Nilofar Ahmed, a psychologist at the University of Bristol in western England, said Sunak’s command is “precise and complex”, and Beware of the limits Ethnic representation is at the top of British politics.
“I think there was something very beautiful about his Diwali date. I think that was really helpful for a lot of South Asians to get that,” she said.
“But I also think it’s too simplistic to see Rishi Sunak as a symbol of a South Asian community in the UK. This is a guy who had a lot of privilege and so he’s not as representative as some of the talk about acting gives him.”
Ahmed said she remains cynical about comparisons between Sunak and Obama’s premiership, noting the lack of mandate from the general population in Britain.
Sunak was appointed prime minister, replacing Liz Truss, after his only remaining rival, Penny Mordaunt, withdrew from the Conservative Party leadership contest. He is the third British Prime Minister in seven weeks, and his premiership has drawn calls from across the political spectrum for general elections.
“Rishi Sunak was not even elected by his own party, let alone the people of the United Kingdom. And so there would be resistance among the population against the appointment of the Sanak. He would not be seen as someone who might represent membership or constituents of the Conservative Party,” Ahmed commented.
She added that his premiership could “play in very disturbing ways,” citing A viral video One Conservative Party member directed racist criticism at Sunak and told LBC radio that he “didn’t like England” and was “not even British in the opinion of most people”.
Sunak was born in the coastal city of Southampton and is a British citizen.
For Lupina Yar, a 56-year-old entrepreneur based in Tooting, Sunak’s appointment “was circumstantial”.
“Conservatives are conservative. I don’t think their skin tone really matters,” the 56-year-old reflected as she sat on a plush pink chair inside her Pakistani clothing store.
Yar said it is not in line with Sunak’s conservative party values, but added that it is in line with the sacrifices his parents made in emigrating to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s.
She remembered that when her parents first came from Pakistan to the UK around the same time, her father was turned away from home ownership opportunities because racist neighbors were saying they didn’t want someone of color living on their streets.
“I grew up in that era. And you know, I remember what my life was like or what my parents had to sacrifice so we could get a good education, get our degrees and do whatever we wanted. Our parents weren’t from that privileged background, but they made it for us.”
Sunak has inherited myriad challenges as the UK’s new leader, the task of guiding the country out of a stressful situation. Cost of Living Crisis and calming financial markets in the wake of Truss’ short and chaotic presidency.
However, Sunak is partly responsible for the economic turmoil suffocating the UK.
While serving as a former UK chancellor under Boris Johnson’s government, he instituted £400 billion ($452 billion) measures aimed at boosting the economy, including a generous vacation scheme, business loans and concessions on dining in restaurants. But this stimulus came at a huge cost and left the government struggling to find savings.
He has pledged to bring “stability and unity” to the Conservatives by appealing to multiple factions of the party, which has seen deepening divisions Since the 2016 Brexit vote.
He did it historically Been voted To support stronger enforcement of immigration and asylum rules and countermeasures to prevent climate change and promote equality and human rights. Like his predecessor, Sunak promised a strict approach to illegal immigration and vowed to expand the government Rwanda’s controversial immigration policy.
Further north, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, Faria Sheriff, said she had failed to see Sunak’s leadership as a sign of equality.
“The appointment of Rishi Sunak is making me upset and devastated by the continuing chaos of conservatives in the bad governance of our country, especially another prime minister who was not elected by the ordinary people,” the 30-year-old Pakistani Muslim chef said via email.
“I don’t see this as racial progress. I see this as a symbolic act of the Conservatives trying to push their agenda towards wealthier immigrant communities… It encourages an environment in which brown people are only accepted if they follow the same harsh rules on immigration and the economy.”
Sunak’s premiership sparked a debate among many British Asians that lies at the intersection of race, class and politics.
The new Prime Minister entered Downing Street as one of its richest occupants ever, yet he has the task of leading a country where marginalized communities exist. Falling into poverty In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
During his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak was criticized for proposing a meager 1% increase in the salaries of Britain’s employees. National Health Servicedespite the collapse of the institution in light of government cuts and Staff shortage.
Rena Patel, a Hindu doctor in Gujarati who works at St Helier’s Hospital in south London, said she had “really mixed opinions” about Sunak’s premiership.
“In terms of representing people, I don’t feel it can represent the poorest people in our society. As a local goldsmith, I see some of the poorest people in our community suffering,” the 43-year-old said against the background of a local goldsmith.
“Regarding the fact that he’s smart and has a financial background, I think he’d do better than before, but that’s no compliment,” Patel added. “I don’t think he represents me.”
“What I see in Rishi Sunak is, first and foremost… an incredibly privileged person with enormous wealth and access to education and resources that the majority of South Asians in the UK do not have. Thus, I have a lot in common with white politicians from More working class than I have with Rishi Sunak,” Ahmed pondered.
Sunak may be the first British Prime Minister of Indian descent, but his race alone does not qualify him to represent the diverse and nuanced viewpoints of 4.2 million people from South Asia Living in Britain today.
“Seeing a brown person taking the post of prime minister is something to be proud of, yet it is also possible to strongly disagree with politics or the individual,” Jasvir Singh, attorney and co-founder of South Asia Heritage Month, wrote via email.
“Politics is much more than just color and race.”
“Professional web geek. Alcohol fan. Devoted zombie trailblazer. Certified social media lover. Amateur creator. Friendly food nerd.”