Should we be excited about Rishi Sunak?

Maya Prakash

When Rishi Sunak was announced as the next prime minister (PM) of the United Kingdom last Tuesday, my aunt texted our family’s girls’ group chat: “Time for Dishy Rishi!!!” When he assumed office, there was an outpouring of adulation from the various women in my life: He is the country’s first prime minister of Indian origin; he was a Fulbright scholar who went to Stanford and Oxford; he is the youngest PM in two centuries; and his parents were Indians who immigrated from Kenya. One image was particularly compelling to them: Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murthy (daughter of Infosys CEO Narayana Murthy, whose net worth is $4.5 billion), in traditional Indian garlands receiving blessings from a priest.

For many South Asians, Sunak’s appointment is a deeply emotive event: To see an Indian walk into 10 Downing Street, a man who took an oath on the Bhagavad Gita when he was elected Member of Parliament — 75 years after the end of British colonialism in India — is certainly gratifying. When my grandmother proudly forwards me pictures of Rishi Sunak’s family, I remember that her parents marched alongside freedom fighters during the Indian independence movement. However, though South Asian representation in the highest office of a former colonial power is historic, it is not progress in itself.

On a campus where representation is a crucial ongoing conversation, we must look at this event with nuance and clarity, especially considering that political trends in the UK have ripple effects around the world, given that the country is still a global cultural and economic powerhouse. We must examine the complexity of Sunak’s privilege and identity, his troubling cabinet choices, and whether he will hinder progress in an increasingly diverse yet divided Britain.

Sunak comes from an extremely privileged background, having attended the elite Oxbridge (that is, Oxford and Cambridge) feeder school Winchester College, the Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) program at Lincoln College, Oxford (known as the degree that runs Britain), and Stanford Business School. He is also the wealthiest occupant of Downing Street ever, with a net worth of almost a billion dollars, mostly due to his tech heiress wife — he is around twice as wealthy as King Charles.

Despite being from a family of immigrants himself, Sunak has reappointed the hard-line conservative Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, the senior minister responsible for immigration policy in the United Kingdom. Braverman once said that it is her “dream” and “obsession” to have “a front page of The Telegraph with a plane [of asylum seekers] taking off to Rwanda.” She has also advocated for the United Kingdom to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), stating that it is “not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers abusing the system.”

It is worth noting that Braverman herself is from a family of Indian-origin immigrants that came to the United Kingdom from Kenya. Sunak’s choice to put her in charge of all immigration to the United Kingdom, making her one of his most senior members of Cabinet, is deeply troubling. Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns over his choice, stating that it may endanger human rights around the globe.

Sunak has claimed that he will govern with “integrity, professionalism and compassion at every level [of government].” But as of yet, his appointment of Braverman does not demonstrate those principles in the slightest. He seems to be part of a trend present here in the United States: placing people of color in senior positions of political parties to spearhead and legitimize increasingly conservative policies. Some examples would include Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Donald Trump, and Ben Carson, former Secretary of Housing. Sunak’s status as an immigrant (and a “model minority,” at that — perceived as particularly successful by social metrics) allows him unique authority to shut the door on those behind them. He may represent a particular ethnic group culturally, but he certainly does not represent their interests.

Representation is an important ongoing conversation on campus — in the College’s administration, the student leadership, the government, the media, and in the world. But when we define representation, it is often limited to factors of identity. As Sunak’s cabinet choices show, identity and ethnicity by themselves are not meaningful forms of representation. True representation is someone who advocates for the interests of those most disadvantaged in society — whether or not they are themselves of that specific background. When we appoint administrators, faculty members, or student leadership to advocate for certain groups of students, it is important to bear in mind that merely identity does not guarantee that their needs will be met.

To assume that someone of a particular identity will always empathize and support others of that group is not only inaccurate, but also denies the subjectivity of the group in question. People of color, women, immigrants, or members of other marginalized communities are not a monolith and have every right to believe what they wish, even if their actions should be criticized and advocated against. Sunak has as much right to be conservative as Liz Truss — but he should also be subject to equal criticism. His identity should not excuse his reprehensible immigration policies.

We would do well to keep the lesson of Rishi Sunak in mind. When we seek meaningful representation, no matter what the context, we must value substance and morality over identity, every single time.

Maya Prakash ’26 is from Singapore and India.