The far right response To Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first Hindu Prime Minister

26 10 22

Aside from any political considerations, Sunak’s appointment as the first British Asian Prime Minister – and the first Prime Minister from any ethnic minority since Benjamin Disraeli in the 1870s – is a historic moment for the UK. That Britain now has a Prime Minister who is Hindu and a Mayor of London who is Muslim is certainly a sign of progress.

However, minority representation in high places does not in itself solve the very real experience of racism and oppression faced by people of colour in the UK. It does not, as some have claimed, mean that Britain is now a post-racial society and it also does not mean that this new Conservative government won’t make things worse. Sunak’s reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, who has described deporting refugees to Rwanda as her “dream” and “obsession”, is yet another depressing reminder of that.

Nevertheless, the decision of so many Tory MPs to endorse Sunak for leader is something that could not have occurred in previous decades, when it was often taken as a given that the electorate would reject non-white candidates at constituency level, let alone as Prime Minister.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, there remains a section of British society who very much reject Sunak on the grounds of his ethnicity and religion. Many on the UK’s far right have made clear that, aside from any political considerations, Sunak’s ethnic and religious identity alone should be enough to disqualify him from office.

For overtly race-focussed fascist groups like Patriotic Alternative and the British Freedom Party, the selection of the UK’s first Asian Prime Minister is a useful illustration of their central platform: that white people in the UK are being “replaced” by minority groups.

A Telegram post from former BNP leader Nick Griffin

Emphasising his belief that no non-white person can ever be British, even if born in the UK, PA’s leader Mark Collett claimed that “white Britons are so terrified of discussing race and ethnicity that they dare not even confront the fact they are now officially and openly under foreign rule”.

Yet others on this wing of the far right were also quick to downplay the significance of the event, which they see as just another example of the “anti-white” ideology of the Conservative Party. As PA’s deputy leader Laura Towler put it:

“As a nationalist, perhaps I should be angry at the thought of a non-British PM but I actually feel nothing […] Rishi Sunak epitomises the Conservative Party. He’s a rich child of immigrants. He is exactly what his party wants for this country: to replace the British people and generate more wealth for the wealthy.”

For supporters of Collett and Towler, Sunak’s Indian heritage and Hindu religious beliefs are largely irrelevant – they see the entirety of the UK’s non-white population as being unwelcome and dangerous, and often dismiss the efforts of less committed racists to distinguish between “good” and “bad” minority.

The issue of Sunak’s ethnicity is more complicated for the UK’s anti-Muslim activists, who from the late 2000s onwards moved away from the explicit racism of the British National Party and attempted to portray themselves as solely concerned with fighting Islamic extremism and other issues within the Muslim community.

For groups like Britain First and the now-defunct English Defence League, the UK’s Hindu and Sikh populations were often held up as a “model minority”, which could be praised in order to denigrate the Muslim community and also deflect accusations of racism. In response to the recent violence in Leicester, Britain First’s deputy leader Ashlea Simon asked “where are the marches to protect the Hindu community?”

It is for that reason that Britain First felt unable to condemn the first Hindu Prime Minister in explicit terms, instead inviting their followers to make their own racist comments by posting two references to his Hindu faith along with an Indian flag emoji:

Their supporters delivered exactly the response in the comments that you’d expect. While one commenter responded that “Hindus are good guys”, others quickly laid bare their bigotry: “A pagan in No.10. It will need a future exorcism” said one, while another called it “the end of our judeo Christian country”.

Similar sentiments were on display from supporters of Stephen Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), with comments on his Telegram including “Disgusting that a Indian is the pm of my beautiful England” and “all planned and fixed INDIAN PM IN ENGLAND couldn’t make this 💩up unbelievable”.

Yet Lennon himself, who has recently courted far-right media outlets in India, has levelled his own criticism of Sunak not on ethnic or religious grounds but wider conspiratorial allegations, sharing links that claim his wife’s family own “a China-linked, World Economic Forum partner company pushing digital ID and social credit scores”.

This conspiratorial view – in which all current events are blamed on a shadowy global coup by woke/globalist/remainer elites – is not limited to those on the extreme fringes of the right. It is one that has had considerable airtime on GB News since its inception, with most of its hosts in seeming agreement that the self-inflicted political wounds suffered by Johnson and Truss were in fact part of a conspiracy to impose a “WEF-endorsed” candidate.

HOPE not hate has documented the efforts by the established far right to influence and recruit from the protest groups and online communities that developed in opposition to lockdowns and vaccines. We will doubtless see continued efforts to convert hostility to the premiership of Sunak, whether on the grounds of his actual policies or conspiracy theories about his role in a “globalist coup”, into a wider paranoia and hostility towards ethnic minority representation in politics.


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