By Barnie Choudhury
Former BBC Journalist
OM SHANTI OM. Greetings from socially distancing SouthAsiastan, better known as Leicester. You know, that Rishi is such a good boy. His parents could not have known, but they named him appropriately.
Significantly, the past few weeks suggest that ‘Rish’, as our esteemed prime minister calls him, is a wise sage whose seer-ing abilities could propel him to sainthood.
His promotion to chancellor was not unexpected. What was, however, was the auspicious timing. Ever since he entered parliament in 2015, Rishi was singled out for stardom. His predecessor, Lord (William) Hague told me this story. “A few weeks after he was selected, I met up with him for a coffee. I said, ‘What are you going to do next?’ He said, ‘I’m going to Wensleydale to milk cows.’ I said, ‘What? I was a member for 26 years here, so I did visit the farms a lot and asked the farmers about their businesses, but you don’t really have to go milking the cows.’ He said, ‘No, I’m determined to understand what it’s like and how the business works, what the future is for farming. I’m going to put my wellies on and I’m going milking cows.’ It’s very impressive.”
So, it is no surprise what happened next. Rishi knows he owes his dramatic rise as the holder of the country’s purse strings to Boris [Johnson] and Dominic [Cummings], but he has not forgotten his former boss at the Treasury, Saj [Sajid Javid].
The Saj left because he could not have his own set of advisers if he continued as chancellor. He must have felt like Shylock in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Dominic’s Portia, with Judge Boris, said he could get his pound of flesh, but no blood must be spilled.
In under four weeks, Rishi delivered his ‘get it done coronavirus’ budget, saluted by the Daily Mail. “Rishi Sunak is hailed ‘PM in waiting’ for storming debut budget as even his predecessor Sajid Javid backs him”, screamed its headline the next day.
But we south Asians knew the boy from Santhanpara, sorry Southampton, would do good. After all, he was head boy at Winchester College. You can imagine his parents – father a doctor, mother a pharmacist – at parties, “Have you met our Oxford and Stanford-educated boy, Rishi? Such an altruistic nature, making millions for others. Takes his oath at the Commons on the Bhagavad Gita. Such a good boy. So proud.”
Rishi continued to do the right thing. He married into a family of billionaires and even went to work for a time with his sasara (father-in-law), NR Narayana Murthy, co-founder of [Indian IT giant] Infosys.
As the Sun (wot won it) reported, “Before his rise to lead the Treasury, Tory officials saw he was the ‘perfect fit’ for Johnson’s new cabinet. One told the Financial Times: ‘Rishi is a superstar, he keeps to the line and proved himself to be a calm, able debater.’”
Perhaps that is why every time Rishi appears on our screens, you feel in safe hands. Look at the way he filled in for Boris during the ITV debate before the general election last year. Self-assured, self-confident and self-less is how he came across.
But it is with the coronavirus pandemic that Bambi-esque Rishi has shown himself to be the vaccination. As James Kirkup eulogised in The Spectator last week, “I still consider Sunak’s performance one of the most impressive I’ve seen from a British politician in more than 20 years in and around Westminster. I watched Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron at their best, generally in times of adversity and when the country craved the sense of comfort that comes from the feeling that the people in charge know what they are doing and are calmly getting on with it. Sunak’s nerveless poise today ranks alongside those moments as an act of infectious self-assurance, not least because the stakes he was playing for are at least as high as those on the table at any point in the last generation.”
His decision to pump almost an extra billion pounds into the economy last Friday (20) was a masterstroke. “His approach was inclusive, consulting the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as well as employers,” gushed John Rentoul in the Independent. “Presumably, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, didn’t want to be consulted, and went on TV within minutes to complain that Sunak hadn’t gone far enough or fast enough. This partisanship was in contrast with the reaction of Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, who praised Sunak for showing ‘real leadership’.”
Around the nation, millions of mombattis [incense sticks] are being lighted in homes, as instructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whisper this very, very quietly. We may, just may, be witnessing the birth of our first south Asian prime minister. Eeshvar ke saath chalo [Go with God].