Sunak, like many Indians in the UK, is a vegetarian, teetotaller, lights up his home on Diwali, and visits a childhood temple in Southampton for family prayer days. He even took oath in the House of Commons on the Hindu religious text Gita.
Back in India where his in-laws live, a similar set of values is in place. His father-in-law N.R. Narayana Murthy, Indian billionaire and founder of IT giant Infosys, is well-regarded for his value system and fiercely humble, middle-class living.
Those unversed in the cultural values many Indians share, might find them hard to understand, even unrealistic. It’s no wonder certain sections of the British social media are outraged. To place these customs into context might be a challenge. Indians have earned this reputation wherever they go. It’s evident in how parents raise their children, teachers teach in class, and workers work, anywhere. The IT worker segment is a prominent – and growing – representation of India abroad. For a diverse India, this is not a diverse representation, but the value system is the unifying thread and that just about works.
It works for the larger South Asian community, too. While studying for my Masters in London, my Pakistani classmates and I formed study groups, went out for dinners and lunches, shared homecooked meals and recipes, and spoke in a funny mix of Hindi-Urdu. We told each other: “We are same-same”. That Sunak paired up with Sajid Javid, the Pakistan-origin British leader who resigned as health secretary within minutes of Sunak’s resignation, reminded me of the many joint acts of follies and celebrations I have shared and continue to share with friends from Pakistan. We are diverse, but we celebrate the ties that hold us together.
This comes together much the same in the resignation letters and speeches both leaders put out. Even as other resignation letters poured on July 5-6 talking of the non-negotiable importance of integrity in public life, the vehemently critical letters from the Asian leaders questioning Boris Johnson’s lack of integrity allow for a case to be made for the cultural value system they both seem to share, or at least, allude to.
Rituals and values have special meanings among South Asians. In the very white Irish city where I live, South Asians have swarmed in big numbers in recent years and made a cultural assertion. In the year that I have been in Belfast, I have been invited to numerous celebrations and festivals organised by South Asians, where there is free food, music, and advice.
We have time for each other, even if it’s just random conversation that the other person desires. Sometimes, we are masters of impromptu acts of kindness or generosity. We barely know you but will invite you home for dinner or bring the kadhi or the kheer for you at work. If you do even a bit of the same for us, we will be loyal friends to you for life. But this is not about food or song and dance; this is about the value system that shapes what we eat, drink, or do, broadly.
In February 2020, Sunak stepped in as Chancellor right after Javid resigned. And then, Tuesday morning, within nine minutes of each other, both leaders handed in their resignations from two of the most powerful cabinet positions in the UK government. Sunak said it wasn’t coordinated; he barely knew. But in words and values they said they wanted to uphold, they connected.
Conscience, loyalty, compromise, teamwork, key words as far as I can see from both their resignation letters are core values underpinning the shared cultures in which they were raised. It’s what we are told growing up as children – be loyal; don’t hurt anyone; adjust where there is conflict; don’t go to war when you can compromise; work with everyone. It’s reflected in our multicultural, diverse societies, in the social divisions that necessitate assimilation and adjustments; in tense features of caste, class and religion where working together is a way to survive; in our meditative states, prayers and azans, where gratitude is a way of life, reflected in how we take favours to heart and work to return in excess.
And then, the famous Asian commitment to family values – “I learnt early on that family matters. Families nurture our children and teach them good conduct; support us, unconditionally; pass on culture, religion, and identity. No government could even begin to replicate the profound bond family forms,” Sunak has earlier said – and the moral authority of parents over their children which finds a reference in Ayesha Hazarika’s piece in the Evening Standard. Hazarika comments, funnily, that the Asian moms of both the leaders might have had a lot to do with their resignations hinting at the moral code governing much of their childhood and better part of their adulthoods – in short – “do the right thing”. That’s where conscience comes in.
Yet, there is a lot that separates the two. Read the full column in moneycontrol.