What India can learn from British politics

Photo Credit NBC News

In the end it was a coronation. That it happened on Diwali would have mattered personally to the 42 year old devout hindu. However, I want to make a different point. Rishi Sunak’s uncontested election as the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party and, therefore, the country’s new prime minister, the youngest in over 200 years, makes me very proud of my second favourite country. It also raises a poignant question about our own. Will India learn the obvious lesson from Britain?

Consider for a moment what the UK has done. 6.8 percent of its population is of various asian origins. Within that, 2.3 percent are of Indian parentage. This is a miniscule minority. Yet the Conservatives have made the son of first generation immigrants of Indian origin, who only came to the country in the 1960s, the United Kingdom’s 57th prime minister. The reaction in our own country is proof of both our disbelief this could happen and our delight it has.

Although Sunak’s elevation may be the most striking development it’s by no means the full story. Twenty percent of Boris Johnson’s first cabinet was of black or asian origin. The previous four chancellors, the last two home secretaries and the most recent foreign secretary came from immigrant families. These are considered great offices of state. Perhaps most tellingly of all, by some counts over 200 of the Conservative Party’s 357 MPs supported Sunak. None of the white contenders could even make it to the starting point.

Now, let’s turn to India. Muslims are 14.3 percent of our population. So in proportionate terms they should have 74 seats in the Lok Sabha. They have only 27. India does not have a muslim chief minister in any of its 28 states, in 15 there’s no muslim minister, in 10 there’s just one, usually in-charge of minority affairs. Today the Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t have a single muslim MP in either house of Parliament. In Uttar Pradesh, with nearly 20% muslim population, the party doesn’t have a single muslim member of the legislative assembly. That was also true of 2017. In Gujarat it hasn’t fielded a muslim candidate in any Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha election since 1998. That’s 24 years of deliberate distancing although 9 percent of the population is of the Islamic faith.

The facts I’m quoting are from Aakar Patel’s book ‘Our Hindu Rashtra’. It reveals even more disturbing details. Though 15 percent of the population, muslims are only 4.9 percent of state and central government employees, 4.6 percent of the paramilitary services, 3.2 percent of IAS, IFS and IPS and, perhaps, as low as 1 percent of the army. This should embarrass us.

Let me cite the media in Britain to illustrate the contrast. Look at the BBC and you’ll be stunned by the profusion of asian faces. Here are some you are bound to have seen: Matthew Amroliwala, Geeta Gurumurthy, James Coomaraswamy, George Aligiah, Nomia Iqbal, Sameera Hussain, Amol Rajan, Rajini Vaidyanathan, Yogita Limaye, Secunder Kermani, Kamal Ahmed, Faisal Islam, Dharshini David.

So, now, can you see why I hope India will learn the obvious lesson from Britain? We have perhaps 200 million muslims but they have been effectively invisibilized. We call them termites and Babar ki aulad, taunt them with references to abba jaan, reduce them to comparisons between shamshan ghat and kabristan and repeatedly tell them to go to Pakistan. So, today, when we take pride in Sunak’s meteoric rise why don’t we also look at ourselves and ask could a muslim prime minister be possible in India?

There’s an even stranger paradox that most people fail to notice. Those of us who least understand Britain are often the first to claim the British are racist. Long before Sunak’s ascension they were terribly wrong. But they’re also usually the last to criticize, or, indeed, even acknowledge, the treatment of muslims at home. Instead, they prefer to talk of appeasement.

I pray the Sunak story might be inspiration for us. I fear I will be proven wrong.


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