Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated incoming British premier Rishi Sunak on Monday on winning the contest to become the leader of Britain’s Conservatives.
Sunak, 42, is the first British Asian to become prime minister. He is married to an Indian, Akshata Murty, the daughter of the co-founder of IT giant Infosys.
“Warmest congratulations @RishiSunak ! As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues, and implementing Roadmap 2030,” Modi tweeted, referring to a plan for deepening ties in trade and other areas.
He added: “Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership.”
Diwali is the Hindu festival being celebrated on Monday. The “living bridge” refers to ties between Indians in India and people of Indian origin in other countries.
Sunak was born in Southampton, England. His parents were born in east Africa and his grandfathers were from pre-independence Punjab in northern British India.
Indian newspapers have been closely following Sunak’s leadership bid, in the same way as when Indian-origin figures — like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — become high achievers abroad.
Alongside coverage of India’s victory over Pakistan at the cricket World Cup, front pages on Monday reported that the “Indian origin” Sunak was the frontrunner to replace Liz Truss.
The prospect of someone with Indian roots becoming prime minister of Britain — India’s colonial master until 75 years ago — also enthused Indians on social media.
Shashi Tharoor, an opposition Indian lawmaker and a fierce critic of British colonialism, tweeted on Monday that Sunak winning would be a welcome achievement.
“I think all of us will have to acknowledge that the Brits have done something very rare in the world, to place a member of a visible minority in the most powerful office,” he said.
Murty’s wealth — estimated at around $700 million — has however proved awkward for Sunak as millions of ordinary Britons reel from a painful cost-of-living crisis.
She has also earned millions of dollars in dividends in recent years from her Infosys stake, but her “non-domicile” status in the UK shielded some of this income from British taxes.
To assuage some of the resulting public anger that hurt her husband politically, Murty said in April that she would pay UK tax on all her worldwide income.
“I do this because I want to, not because the rules require me to,” she tweeted. “My decision… will not change the fact that India remains the country of my birth, citizenship, parents’ home and place of domicile. But I love the UK too.”
Modi and former prime minister Boris Johnson had set a target of Diwali for agreeing a free trade deal, a potentially important pact for Britain after leaving the European Union.
But by late Monday there was no announcement of any agreement, with talks reportedly snagging over fears among Conservatives that it would lead to an increase in immigration.
In exchange for lowering tariffs on British imports such as whisky, India is pushing for more work and study visas similar to those agreed by London in deals with Australia and New Zealand which allow under-35s to live in Britain for up to three years.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman earlier this month said that “migration mobility is an important element” in the negotiations.
He added there had been an “understanding in this regard” and “we would expect that both sides honour it”.
“We certainly are taking actions,” he said, adding that they want Britain to also show “demonstrable actions on that.”