A Hindu with Indian roots and a Muslim with Pakistani-origin parents will help decide the future of the United Kingdom, including whether to partition the nation that once ruled over their ancestral lands. It would have sounded like a laughable fantasy 75 years ago, when the British cleaved an undivided India and left. But with Rishi Sunak as prime minister of the UK and Humza Yousaf as the new leader of Scotland, it is now reality. This moment reflects the growing diversity in the higher echelons of British politics. And even though it is important not to whitewash what is at the end of the day still a field very much dominated by a narrow elite in that country, there are lessons here for India. Mr Sunak is no lonely figure in his cabinet: his foreign secretary, James Cleverly, has Sierra Leonean lineage, and his home secretary, Suella Braverman, has Indian origins, routed through Kenya and Mauritius. The Opposition Labour Party has senior non-white leaders too, including Lisa Nandy, who is seen as a possible future contender for the party’s top job.
All of this is happening at a time when India is moving away from diverse representation in national politics. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has no Muslim member of parliament. Muslims constitute around 14% of the national population according to the 2011 census; yet the Lok Sabha — directly elected by the people — has had less than 5% Muslim MPs since 2014 when the BJP came to power in the first of two sweeping victories. It is today difficult to imagine a Muslim Indian prime minister. Political representation of the other religious minorities is unlikely to improve given India’s acute turn to the Right. To be sure, the symbolism of people of diverse backgrounds in high places cannot be a substitute for genuine empowerment. Mr Sunak’s government is, in fact, peddling many of the same anti-immigrant tropes that his parent’s generation would have once faced. India has had a woman, two Muslims and a Dalit president. Its commander-in-chief now is from a scheduled tribe. There is little evidence that this has meaningfully empowered these otherwise vulnerable sections of society. Still, representation signals what a country at least wants to portray to its people and the world. In India’s case, that message does not include diversity.