‘Our son is London’s PM’: Rishi Sunak’s Indian family kickstart celebrations in Punjab

Rishi Sunak’s uncle Subhash Berry is seen cutting a cake amid hectic celebrations after the Indian-origin British politician became the first person of colour to be prime minister  (The Independent/Sourced)
Rishi Sunak’s uncle Subhash Berry is seen cutting a cake amid hectic celebrations after the Indian-origin British politician became the first person of colour to be prime minister (The Independent/Sourced)

A flurry of WhatsApp messages, some bordering on memes; grand Hindu ceremonies; and a cheerful blue cake with the words “Rishi Sunak” emblazoned on it have been at the centre of the party in India’s Punjab state ever since the prime minister’s surprising political victory.

For Mr Sunak’s Indian cousins and uncle, who live in Ludhiana city, it has been a hectic week of explaining the family tree that connects them to the first “truly Hindu son of their soil” to have entered 10 Downing Street – something the wealthy family, which has been in the liquor and cotton trade for generations, sees as a great achievement.

The Sunaks trace their roots to a small Punjab village called Jassowal Sudan, where it all began with five brothers, including Mr Sunak’s grandfather Raghubir Singh Berry, who left for Africa in the 1950s in search of better work and then moved on again to the UK in 1972, where he settled down for good.

All of this has made it into WhatsApp messages forwarded from Subhash Berry’s phone, as he tells his workers to keep his shop running and sits down for a conversation with The Independent.

Rishi Sunak’s family in Ludhiana celebrates the Indian-origin leader’s entry into No 10 Downing Street by cutting a cake (The Independent/Sourced)
Rishi Sunak’s family in Ludhiana celebrates the Indian-origin leader’s entry into No 10 Downing Street by cutting a cake (The Independent/Sourced)

Many have asked him for the phone number of Usha Sunak – Mr Sunak’s mother and Mr Berry’s cousin – to congratulate her from 4,100 miles away.

“My sister’s son has become London’s prime minister,” he tells a customer who approaches him to ask for change for Rs200 (£2.09) at his quilts shop, Berry Quilts.

He shows a sepia-stained photo of Mr Sunak’s mother with other family members during a visit to Ludhiana in 1978, two years before Mr Sunak was born. Mr Berry, once Ludhiana’s most well-known liquor baron, lives in the same house as generations of his family before him, at 54, Club Road in Ludhiana.

A photo from 1978 when Rishi Sunak’s mother Usha Sunak (left) visited Ludhiana and met his uncle in Punjab, India. Rishi Sunak’s father Yashvir Sunak is seated on the right. This was their last visit to India (The Independent/Sourced)
A photo from 1978 when Rishi Sunak’s mother Usha Sunak (left) visited Ludhiana and met his uncle in Punjab, India. Rishi Sunak’s father Yashvir Sunak is seated on the right. This was their last visit to India (The Independent/Sourced)

The family are ecstatic at becoming mini-celebrities in India. They have also been asked to throw a grand celebration in Jassowal village, where the new prime minister’s grandfather was born. “We will be inviting a lot of local politicians and all family members,” Mr Berry says.

Even though Mr Sunak has never visited Ludhiana, many in the family are already anticipating the “tough” security protocols if the PM comes to India for a grand reunion.

The Berry family say they are prepared to host “Rishi”, his wife and his children.

For them, Mr Sunak’s elevation to No 10 is a rather “natural” boost for Indo-British relations and, unlike the social-media chatter flooding Facebook and Twitter in India, this is not revenge for India on its colonial rulers.

Rishi Sunak’s cousin Ajay Berry and his wife watch news coverage of the new prime minister in Ludhiana, India (The Independent/Sourced)
Rishi Sunak’s cousin Ajay Berry and his wife watch news coverage of the new prime minister in Ludhiana, India (The Independent/Sourced)

“A lot of people are saying that our son has shown the Britishers who is the real leader,” says Ajay Berry, Mr Sunak’s cousin. “We do not believe in any of this hyper-nationalist narrative. This is not a revenge on our colonisers.

“He is a prime minister of a sovereign first, and an Indian later. It is not like Rishi is going to act outside the confines of his political responsibilities in the UK just because he has an India connection,” Mr Sunak’s 74-year-old uncle adds.

Mr Berry then proudly shows the video of Mr Sunak worshipping a cow in the UK as a mark of how truly he remains attached to his roots.

Mr Sunak has added a series of firsts to his name in becoming prime minister: he is the first person of colour, the first Indian, and the first person of Asian heritage – apart from being the youngest person – to hold the office once held by Winston Churchill, whose racist disdain for Indians was well known.

Indians have not stopped celebrating since Mr Sunak replaced Liz Truss, yet his name was not widely known in India until very recently.

Rishi Sunak has become like the sun in the solar system of the Berry family (The Independent/Sourced)
Rishi Sunak has become like the sun in the solar system of the Berry family (The Independent/Sourced)

Mr Berry says neither he nor anyone in the family really took notice of Mr Sunak when he was chancellor, or even when he was ahead in the race against Liz Truss over the summer.

“Being a minister is fine. It is good but not a big deal,” shrugs Mr Berry, in an echo of the attitude of many Indian parents to anything less than total success.

He was last noticed in the clan when he married Akshata Murty, the daughter of one of the richest Indian billionaires, in a small ceremony. After that, Mr Sunak was not discussed in dinner table conversations.

And Mr Berry has no advice for Mr Sunak because “when someone reaches one of the highest positions in the global political discourse, then even the elders of the family bow down to them”, he says.

Mr Sunak has become the sun in the solar system of his Ludhiana family. Children in the family, who were planning to go to Canada to study, will now head to the UK instead.

“Why go anywhere else? London is now like a second home!” exclaims Ajay Berry.