Undertones: Why India’s Hindu nationalists revere UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Illustration by Melissa Vida

This story is part of Undertones, Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory‘s newsletter. Subscribe to Undertones.

When Rishi Sunak became the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister last month, Indian media headlines bubbled with pride. Indian nationalist groups, in particular, praised Sunak, a 42-year-old conservative British politician whose grandparents left present-day Pakistan and India long ago. For them, Sunak's appointment validates their far-right Hindu ideology.

These communities, supported by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India, do not grant “Indianness” to all Indians in the diaspora. One must profess Hinduism and be politically conservative. Not doing so might result in being attacked for being ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-Indian’. The case of Twitter’s recent lay-offs, which also included staffers of Indian descent, serves as a good example, with some accounts celebrating the termination of ‘anti-Indian’ employees such as Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde.

In contrast, Rishi Sunak, who leads U.K.’s Conservative Party and publicly follows Hindu rituals, fits the bill. Some have gone as far as claiming that Sunak arrived to power in the U.K. thanks to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Despite being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and holding UK citizenship, Rishi Sunak is still branded as an Indian. He has never lived in India, and his ancestors migrated out of the country almost a century ago. Labeling him a Hindu serves the interests of right-wing Hindus, and his success is used to validate the BJP's Hindutva agenda in India,” Observatory researcher Ananya writes.

These groups have used Sunak’s appointment to galvanize “Hindutva”, an imaginary fusion of India, Hinduism, and extreme nationalism at the expense of minorities.

Viral posts after Sunak's appointment

Observatory researchers analyzed a popular video that baselessly tries to connect Rishi Sunak – dubbed “the Hindu lion” – to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. It garnered 1.8 million views. In it, the pro-government media page ‘Nio times’ compares Sunak to Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who has enacted discriminatory policies against religious minorities in that region, implying that Sunak will protect Hindu interests in the U.K.

Nationalist media and users also want to inspire fear in these posts. For example, a Twitter user with 29k followers wrote that Rishi Sunak's appointment is part of a “global Hindutva phenomenon” and that this “terrifies” people. See more analysis here.

Musk’s Twitter firings

Indian far right-wing media reacted gleefully to Elon Musk’s Twitter job cuts, in particular when people of Indian descent were dismissed. In the past few days, Musk fired Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and legal chief Vijaya Gadde, among others.

An unknown user on Telegram announced that “heads are rolling” and that “these were the folks who banned Trump.” The Hindu right wing has criticized Twitter for taking down their posts in the past.

Although mainstream media in India has glorified its diaspora members who lead tech companies, Hindu nationalists shun them if they enact policies that hurt right-wing figures, whether they be Western or Indian. In the Telegram message below, Twitter personnel is referred to as the “Leli gang,” which means the “left and liberal gang” in short. See more analysis here.

Sometimes the vilification is tainted with misogyny, as is the case for Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal operations. Gadde played an important role in the platform’s ban of former US President Trump and in the takedowns of many Hindu nationalist posts by BJP leaders in India. She has thus received a lot of backlash from right-wing circles. Her firing from Twitter is celebrated as apt “karma” for her arrogance. Comments in the item below mention that even though Gadde is Indian, she does not “have India in her heart”. See more analysis here.

Muslim Indians are not “Indian enough”

On the flipside, Muslim Indians, whether living in India or not, are seldom considered Indian by Hindu nationalist groups. Islamophobic narratives have dire consequences: recorded cases of offline extreme violence against Muslims in India are increasing.

As Rishi Sunak represents a religious minority in the United Kingdom, opposition leaders from the Indian National Congress and some Indian Twitter users have asked Hindu nationalists if they would agree to also have someone from a religious minority — such as a Muslim — to lead India. Hindu nationalists have overwhelmingly denied this possibility and the terms “Muslim PM” trended on Twitter.

Items like the one above imply that Hindus are routinely underrepresented in states where Hindus are a minority, even though Hinduism is the country’s majority religion. They are convinced that Indian PM Modi's repression of minority groups such as Muslims is rightful payback for the secular policies from the pre-BJP era that, according to them, marginalized Hindus.

“Arguments like these completely ignore the power imbalance between Hindus, who represent about 80 per cent of the country’s population, with a monopoly over systems of governance, versus minority communities who fight to safeguard their rights, culture and history against assimilation and onslaught,” Ananya writes.

Find out more about the Civic Media Observatory's mission and methodologyThis story is a good place to start to learn about why we do what we do.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.