Downing Street is hoping Sunak’s Indian heritage and the presence of his wife will help guarantee a warm reception from locals when he arrives…reports Asian Lite News
Rishi Sunak has said he is looking forward to a “special” trip to New Delhi, where he believes he will be welcomed as “India’s son-in-law” during his first visit to the country since entering Downing Street.
The prime minister will land in the city on Friday morning ahead of this weekend’s G20 summit – the first time he has been to India since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Downing Street is hoping Sunak’s Indian heritage and the presence of his wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter of one of India’s richest men, will help guarantee a warm reception from locals when he arrives. Sunak plans to use the trip to make headway on a trade deal with India, as well as persuading other countries to work to circumvent Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain.
Speaking to journalists on the journey to Delhi, Sunak said: “It’s special. I’ll be visiting a country that is very near and dear to me. I haven’t been back for a few years.”
The prime minister usually takes his family to India every February, but said he had abandoned those annual trips since being made chancellor in 2020.
He added: “I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India’s son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately. But I’m excited to be back. It’s nice to have Akshata with me as well.”
G20 leaders will arrive in Delhi over the next 24 hours in preparation for the summit. They are set to include the US president, Joe Biden , as well as several European heads of state. However, neither the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, nor the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will attend.
Unlike most other world leaders, Sunak enjoys a special status in India as the grandson of Indian immigrants and a practising Hindu. He and Murty will visit the vast Akshardham Hindu temple in Delhi over the weekend. Ahead of the summit, street vendors in India were selling paintings of Sunak with messages of congratulations and good luck for the British prime minister.
UK officials are hoping that the star status enjoyed by both Sunak and Murty in India will cut through with the public and help the prime minister secure concessions from his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.
Sunak and Modi will hold a bilateral meeting during the weekend, at which Sunak is expected to press for a trade deal before the end of the year as well as for India to take a tougher stance towards Russia.
The British prime minister is not due to meet Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, during the summit. Sunak said, however, that he would have a strong message for Moscow if the pair did come face-to-face.
The prime minister told reporters: “The message is, the fact that Putin is not there demonstrates his isolation in the global community. He wasn’t there last year, he’s not there this year to answer for what he’s doing. He doesn’t want to be held accountable.”
He added: “They’ve destroyed about a third of Ukraine’s civilian export capacity with their bombardment. That is wrong, it’s not right. It’s causing suffering in Ukraine, but it’s also causing suffering to millions of people in very vulnerable countries around the world. And I want to do everything I can to hold them to account for that and to call out that behaviour.”
Sunak was more circumspect, however, on whether he would meet Li Qiang, the Chinese premier, and what he would say to him if he does.
“He’s there, so there’s range of people that I’ll be expecting to try and speak to,” the prime minister said. “I look forward to engaging with everybody on the issues that matter to the UK and where we can make progress on things that are important to the British public and to the government.”
The prime minister will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where it is likely they will talk about a UK-India free trade agreement.
There is increasing optimism a deal can be reached soon.
India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said she hoped it would be done before the end of the year.
Downing Street has refused to be drawn on a timescale.
India’s desire for visas with more flexibility has long been seen as a potential sticking point in the negotiations.
The prime minister’s official spokesman told us: “This is a trade deal which is focused on trade and business – immigration is a separate issue.
“The only aspect of the movement of people covered by a free trade agreement is business mobility, which is the temporary movement of business people for specific purposes.”
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the Conservatives had said the trade deal “would be completed by last October” and claimed Mr Sunak “arrives at the G20 as a minnow on the global stage”.
But for all the politics, and diplomacy, the early focus of this trip will be pictorial, symbolic and drenched in history – a British prime minister visiting a former British colony.
A British prime minister of Indian heritage, as India hosts the world – or at least a huge economic chunk of it.
ALSO READ-Feast, music awaits Sunak in India