Rishi Sunak’s rise to No. 10 has left many in India ecstatic to have the first Indian-born prime minister at the helm of the country’s former colonizer, but has also renewed calls once again for the return of the Kohinoor diamond.
Sunak, who has called himself a “proud Hindu,” has set several historic firsts with his rise as British prime minister. He has the distinction of not only becoming the first leader of Hindu and Asian heritage, but he will also become the country’s youngest prime minister in more than 200 years.
Sunak’s appointment as prime minister has left a number of political pundits and people in India excited, with news channels broadcasting non-stop coverage of the race for No. 10.
But even as India’s media and commentators celebrate Sunak’s elevation as an “Indian son” rising “above the Empire,” hundreds of Indians have also been tempted to once again demand the return of the Kohinoor. (also written as Koh-i-Noor) diamond to the country.
This is the second time in the span of just two months that Indian social media users have trended Kohinoor as a hashtag.
Thousands of people previously made the demand after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8.
“Now just return the Kohinoor and not all, but some will be spared. Certainly a historic moment,” tweeted award-winning Indian journalist Barkha Dutt.
“History comes full circle. First Kamala Harris, now Rishi Sunak Hindu PM. The United States and the United Kingdom somewhat accept Hinduism and the Bhagvat Gita. Maybe [bring] Kohinoor Back,” said Prachi Sadhvi, a Hindu political activist.
Journalist Marx Tejaswi tweeted that he hoped Mr. Sunak would “bring the #Kohinoor diamond back to India during his next visit.”
“Let’s agree to buy a pint for the British journalist who is the first to ask the Prime Minister [Rishi Sunak] about [Kohinoor] diamond,” wrote Sunjeev Bery, executive director of the advocacy group Freedom Forward.
Several social media users also shared memes, one of them caricaturing the melodramatic Bollywood hit. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghamshowing Mr. Sunak fresh off a helicopter and carrying a briefcase and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcoming him.
Lawsuits over the Kohinoor have resurfaced as the diamond remains at the center of political and legal controversy in India amid disputes over its ownership, with claims not only from India but also from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The diamond is set in the platinum crown that was made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the wife of King George VI, in the 1930s. It was placed in the Queen Mother’s coffin during her funeral in 2002 and since then it has been publicly exhibited in the Tower of London.
Modi had previously congratulated Sunak and said he will work closely with him on bilateral relations between the two countries.
“As I become Prime Minister of the UK, I look forward to working closely together on global issues and implementing the 2030 Roadmap,” Mr Modi tweeted.
Sunak, however, has no relatives living in India, unlike US Vice President Kamala Harris. The former British foreign minister was born and raised in Southampton to parents of Punjabi descent from undivided India.
His parents, father Yashvir Sunak and mother Usha Sunak, ran a pharmacy in the south coast town after emigrating to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s.
Sunak himself did not call himself an Indian, but he did not shy away from embracing his faith when he was photographed lighting candles outside No 11 to mark the biggest Hindu festival Diwali.
His closest connection to India is through his wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Indian billionaire Narayana Murthy, chairman of IT giant Infosys, also known as “the Steve Jobs of India.”