Rishi Sunak’s appointment as Britain’s finance minister after only five years in politics raised eyebrows because of his age and relative inexperience.
But he is now the subject of leadership talk as one of the few ministers to emerge largely unscathed by the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunak, who turned 40 in May, entered parliament in 2015 and only got his foot on the most junior rung of government in 2018.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson surprisingly promoted him to the country’s second most important political position when finance minister Sajid Javid resigned in February.
Little-known at the time, Sunak was tasked with delivering Johnson’s election-winning vision of huge public spending projects to boost Britain’s post-Brexit economy.
His first budget earned plaudits for its content and slick delivery but the plans were immediately torpedoed by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
Far from being overawed, Sunak was credited with taking bold steps and delivering a sweeping publicly-funded furlough scheme to secure jobs affected by the lockdown.
His initiative to partly fund restaurant meals with public money proved hugely popular, and his poll ratings have remained high as those of his colleagues, and boss, plunged.
“In many ways, Sunak is a traditional British political prodigy,” Guardian columnist Andy Beckett wrote earlier this month.
“He speaks fluently in public, rarely makes gaffes, and looks good in a suit. Next to Johnson, these useful but not outstanding qualities seem more alluring than they ought to.”
One political veteran told a recent profile in Tatler magazine that Sunak reminded him of a “fresh-faced” Tony Blair, who became prime minister in 1997 at the age of 43.
The current largesse comes at the price of Britain wracking up eye-watering debt that will later require either tax hikes or public spending cuts, which will present a true test of Sunak’s popularity and leadership credentials.
– First Hindu chancellor –
Sunak is privately wealthy through his previous business career and is probably better-known in India than in Britain through his wife Akshata.
She is the daughter of Indian business magnate Narayana Murthy, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys, India’s second-largest IT outsourcing firm.
Sunak is Britain’s first Hindu chancellor of the exchequer, and swore his oath of allegiance in parliament on the Bhagavad Gita.
He is also the first person born in the 1980s to hold one of the so-called four great offices of state: prime minister, finance minister, foreign secretary and interior minister.
Sunak is the member of parliament for Richmond in Yorkshire, northern England — a safe Conservative seat he took over in 2015 from former party leader and foreign secretary William Hague, who described Sunak as an “exceptional individual”.
Theresa May gave him his first job in government in January 2018, making him a parliamentary under-secretary of state with responsibility for local government, parks and troubled families.
A Brexit supporter, Sunak produced a report in 2016 on the merits of introducing free ports after leaving the European Union — a concept that Johnson cherry-picked for his own leadership campaign.
Sunak’s grandparents were from Punjab in northern India and emigrated to Britain from eastern Africa in the 1960s.
They arrived with “very little”, Sunak told MPs in his maiden speech.
The eldest of three children, Sunak’s father was a family doctor in Southampton on the southern English coast, and his mother ran a local pharmacy.
Born on May 12, 1980 in Southampton, he studied at Winchester College, one of Britain’s leading private boarding schools.
After waiting tables in a local Indian restaurant, Sunak studied at the University of Oxford, graduating with a first class honours degree in philosophy, politics and economics.
Sunak then gained a business administration master’s degree from Stanford University in California on a Fulbright scholarship.
He met his wife Akshata at Stanford and they lived in California before returning to Britain.
The couple, who now have two young daughters, Krishna and Anoushka, married in Bangalore in 2009.
Guests included Wipro chairman Azim Premji and India’s former Test cricket captain Anil Kumble.