Accompanied by his wife Akshata Murty, the daughter of India’s billionaire Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murty, they were received at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport by the Indian minister for consumer affairs and environment, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, as well as British High Commissioner to New Delhi Alex Ellis.
Mr Sunak was not greeted on the airport tarmac by his Indian counterpart – perhaps understandable, given Narendra Modi is hosting the gathering of some 30 world leaders this weekend and holding bilateral talks on the sidelines with 15 of them.
And there were no thronging crowds to meet Mr Sunak either: despite excitement in India at the idea of a British-Indian resident of No 10 visiting the country of his ancestors, Delhi has been strictly locked down to ensure security during the G20, and the streets throughout the city were largely deserted on Friday.
As they stepped down from their RAF Voyager plane, Mr Sunak and Ms Murty were greeted instead by a traditional dance performance, and the moment was captured in rolling news coverage across the nation’s TVs.
India Today’s anchor Shiv Aroor hailed their arrival – referring to Ms Murty as “the first lady of the United Kingdom” – and noted excitedly: “Both are Desi (South Asian), both are Indians, and this is a very special relationship that the two leaders [Sunak and Modi] are going to be taking forward.
“There is a great amount of interest in the Indian-origin British prime minister arriving in India,” he added on behalf of his viewers.
“A big moment,” said NDTV anchor Gargi Rawat. “UK prime minister of Indian heritage. His wife is accompanying him, Akshata Murty, who is actually born in India, grew up in India. She is the daughter of one of India’s richest men.
“So, a lot of interest around the UK prime minister’s visit here.”
Reporters also repeatedly noted Mr Sunak’s religious identity as the first Hindu prime minister of the UK.
“Remember, it made headlines across the country the moment he said ‘Jai Siya Ram’ (Hail God Ram and Goddess Sita) when he was at Cambridge University”, said India Today reporter Gaurav Sawant, in an apparent reference to Mr Sunak’s remarks at a Jesus College event on India’s Independence Day.
After their car left the airport, Mr Sunak and Ms Murty were taken to meet local schoolchildren at the British Council headquarters in Delhi.
There they met children taking part in UK-funded programmes that support computer coding and language skills, according to pool reporters travelling with Mr Sunak.
Rishi Sunak was heard asking the school children whether they watched India’s successful Moon landing – last month India became the first country in history to achieve a successful soft landing on the Moon’s uncharted south pole with the Chandrayaan-3 mission.
After getting a fulsome reply, he said: “That was really cool, wasn’t it? A special moment.”
Akshata Murty interacted with the children and their coding projects before posing for photos with teachers and other staff.
The couple also joined a group of children who told them about a favourite book they were reading, with one 14-year-old picking William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
After the British Council visit, Mr Sunak gave a brief interview to the broadcast media, in which he described his own excitement at returning as prime minister to “a country that’s near and dear to me”.
“I’m here as a British prime minister and my story is not that dissimilar from millions of British people, that living bridge that exists between India and the UK. It’s very powerful,” he said. “It’s about those people-to-people links, those family links. And it speaks to the incredible tolerance and diversity of our country, a country that welcomed millions of people like my family, and here I am now representing the UK back in India.
“I think it says an enormous amount about our country that everyone can be really proud of.”
Among those excited about Mr Sunak’s trip in India are some of his more distant relatives on his mother’s side.
Gautam Dev Sood, described as Mr Sunak’s maternal uncle, has given several interviews to Indian media. He told news agency ANI: “We are very happy that he [Sunak] is coming to India. There is a great sense of excitement, and we are trying to assemble in Delhi if it is possible to meet him.”
— IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) September 8, 2023
Speaking to India Today, he said: “All family members are very excited about it and very happy he is coming to India after becoming prime minister.”
On the plane en route to India, Mr Sunak said the trip was “obviously special”. “I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India’s son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately. I’m excited to be back. It is nice to have Akshata with me as well.”
Mr Sunak is scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday, and he wrote on social media after arriving in India on Friday that he was there to “[meet] world leaders to address some of the challenges that impact every one of us”.
I’m heading to the #G20 Summit with a clear focus.
Stabilising the global economy. Building international relationships. Supporting the most vulnerable.
This action is part of that – Putin again has failed to show up for the G20, but we will show up with support for Ukraine. https://t.co/tLG19ILDLr
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) September 8, 2023
The prime minister before his departure emphasised that he will focus on “stabilising the global economy” at the summit.
“I’m heading to the #G20 Summit with a clear focus. Stabilising the global economy. Building international relationships. Supporting the most vulnerable. This action is part of that – Putin again has failed to show up for the G20 but we will show up with support for Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter/X.
During his visit to Delhi, Mr Sunak will be staying at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in central Connaught Place, along with the rest of his delegation from the UK, amid high security and restrictions for the national capital’s residents.
Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has declared a public holiday for the city lasting until Monday – most Saturdays are considered a day of work in India – directing all schools, government and private offices to remain shut. There are also strict traffic restrictions in the central New Delhi district, also known as the Lutyens Zone, where Mr Sunak will be staying, meaning only residents and those in essential service jobs are allowed to enter the area.