Pakistan could also claim Sunak


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Rishi Sunak’s family is on the paternal side of Gujranwala of Punjab, now in Pakistan. The family ancestry also traces back to Punjab on the mother’s side. This makes Rishi Sunak a full Punjabi, although we won’t hear that from him or his PR team. This PR machine is determined to project him as currently British, not originally as a Punjabi.

In the now unlikely event that Rishi Sunak is elected Prime Minister of Britain, Pakistan may well claim it, if not with as much enthusiasm as India currently seems. Either would be a claim that Sunak is not just eager to discourage, but determined to block public discourse.

Rishi Sunak’s family is on the paternal side of Gujranwala of Punjab, now in Pakistan. The family ancestry also traces back to Punjab on the mother’s side.

This makes Rishi Sunak a full Punjabi, although we won’t hear that from him or his PR team. This PR machine is determined to project him as currently British, not originally as a Punjabi.

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What could be an understandable selection in projection has actually become an obliteration. The starting point of the story proposed by Rishi Sunak is the migration of his parents from Kenya. He launched himself directly into the arrival of parents in Great Britain, to put down roots in Southampton where he was born in 1980.

The story projected by PR would tell us of a difficult family who had opportunities in Britain where he played his own humble role. Some of these Rishi stories have come up time and time again during the current campaign. From a father who worked hard to become a simple general practitioner, from a mother who was a pharmacist. Of how Rishi Sunak would ride his bicycle to distribute medicine to the needy, a story he repeated often.

It is a story of humble origins, humility and simple service. The projected story is attractive, but not quite accurate.

Privileged

These were not humble origins. The grandfather did well enough in Kenya to send the father to expensive medical training in Liverpool, which the family paid for. He became a general practitioner, which is not quite the image of poverty in Britain or even of middle-class life; GPs are among the cream winners in Britain.

And the wife didn’t just study pharmacy, she became a pharmacy owner, a business that can be so lucrative that many families would rather their children become pharmacists than doctors.

This story of humble origins only seems humble in comparison to its later wealth. The cycle stint in Southampton was clearly short-lived before a move to Oxford and Stanford and a post-cycle into the world of investment finance working with Goldman Sachs and as an investment banker at other firms.

And that still dwindles to near insignificance when compared to the wealth of the family Rishi Sunak married into. With almost 1% of the shares of Infosys, his wife Akshata Murthy would be worth a billion dollars thanks to this source alone.

In an election campaign, the story of the bicycle was intended to sell him as a man humble of heart if not of means. It doesn’t quite work as expected. Throughout the campaign, stories of Rishi Sunak’s wealth stick to him more closely than his obviously Indian appearance and name.

Wealth does not help gain popularity, his ratings have slipped in opinion polls. The British like to make money with the world, they don’t much like the rich doing it in Britain.

Punjab

His Indian name, Indian appearance, Hindu faith, American stamp, wife’s Indian citizenship, parental migration from Africa are all foreign enough for someone aspiring to be Prime Minister of Britain. He does not now want to add Punjab to the public potpourri.

And so it is only the Indian communities of Britain that boast of its Punjabi heritage. Punjabi families from Kenya and Tanzania tell each other the stories of grandparent families in Kenya from the father’s side and in Tanzania from the mother’s side.

These stories find proud commonality in both families as Khatris of Punjab. They claim Sunak as the Punjabi Khatri who dared, as only Punjabi khatris can. Their boasting is not his boasting. A letter from the Punjabi Language Awareness Board congratulating him for participating as a Punjabi went unanswered. He resolutely avoided the other Punjabi nets thrown at him.

On this potentially Pakistani property, not a word either. Pakistan matched India in claiming the Kohinoor on the grounds that in undivided Punjab the diamond was kept in Lahore, which is of course now in Pakistan.

Pakistanis may not regard Sunak as a diamond, but on this principle they could argue – some at least could – that his origin is more Pakistani than Indian.

The 1947 division placed Gujranwala in Punjab on the Pakistani side, it is now as much Pakistani as Lahore. The family origin beyond the parents goes back there, and for generations, even if you will not hear Rishi Sunak say it.

In Britain, where he is now passionate about tracing the family tree as far back as possible, Rishi Sunak cut the branches of the tree as close to him as he publicly could. If he goes to Downing Street, we can be sure he won’t be ordering too many paranthas for breakfast.

London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, providing insight into unusual affairs in and around London.


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