By: Sarwar Alam
Akshata Murty, the Indian wife of embattled British chancellor Rishi Sunak, is richer than the queen as the daughter of a self-made tech billionaire and a no-less-formidable engineer and philanthropist mother.
Sunak, once seen as a future prime minister, has seen his popularity sink because of surging consumer prices, while recent reports that Murty’s foreign earnings are shielded from British tax authorities have added to the pressure.
Her father, NR Narayana Murthy, 75, co-founded tech giant Infosys in 1981, the outsourcing behemoth that helped drive India’s remarkable transformation into the “back office of the world”.
Borrowing 10,000 rupees ($130) from his wife Sudha to help create it, the firm is now worth around $100 billion and was the first Indian company to list on Wall Street.
One of only two non-Americans in Fortune magazine’s 2012 list of the “12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time”, the Infosys chief’s life-changing moment came in 1974 when he was locked up for four nights in communist eastern Europe.
“That cured me from being a confused leftist to a determined compassionate capitalist,” Narayana, now worth more than $4 billion, said afterwards.
Sudha, 71, meanwhile was Tata Motors’ first female engineer after famously complaining via a postcard to the chairman about the firm’s stipulation that “lady candidates need not apply”.
Regarded as “India’s favourite granny”, she is a prolific author and a powerful force in social work after setting up 60,000 libraries and building 16,000 toilets.
– No TV –
She also ensured an austere upbringing for her children Akshata and Rohan, with no television at home and insisting they go to school in an auto-rickshaw like their classmates.
Unusually in class-conscious India, where arranged marriages are still common, Akshata’s parents were fine with her comparatively humble choice of husband, a family doctor’s son from Southampton.
In a letter to Akshata published in an anthology, her father said he found Sunak “to be all that you had described him to be – brilliant, handsome, and, most importantly, honest”.
“I understood why you let your heart be stolen. It was then that I reconciled to sharing your affections with him,” he wrote.
The couple met at Stanford University in the United States when Akshata was pursuing her MBA. The future chancellor of the exchequer was a Fulbright scholar already with a first-class Oxford degree.
Their 2009 wedding was a relatively modest affair, but the reception was attended by about 1,000 guests including politicians, industrialists and cricketers.
– ‘Smear’ campaign –
Akshata, 42, owns shares worth almost a billion dollars in Infosys, according to the company’s disclosure to the stock exchange.
This makes her richer than the Queen, whose personal wealth is about £350 million ($460 million), according to the 2021 Sunday Times Rich List.
The couple own at least four properties, including a £7 million five-bedroom house in upscale Kensington, London, and a flat in Santa Monica, California.
Akshata is also the director of venture capital company Catamaran Ventures that she founded with Sunak in 2013.
She confirmed this week that she “is treated as non-domiciled for UK tax purposes”, meaning returns from her Infosys stake are only liable for taxation outside Britain.
Sunak told the Sun newspaper for Friday’s edition that “to smear my wife to get at me is awful”.
He said “it would not be reasonable or fair to ask her to sever ties with her country because she happens to be married to me”.
Akshata created her own fashion label, Akshata Designs, in 2010.
According to a 2011 Vogue profile, she works with artists in remote villages to create Indian-meets-Western fusion clothes that are “vehicles to discovering Indian culture”.
“I believe we live in a materialistic society,” she told the magazine. “People are becoming more conscious about the world they live in. Doing good is fashionable.”