Rishi Sunak Religion
Rishi Sunak became leader of the Conservative Party and the UK’s 57th prime minister in October 2022.
In doing so, Mr Sunak became the UK’s first-ever non-white prime minister and first practising Hindu to enter 10 Downing Street.
His rise to power has been heralded as an important step in Britain’s development as a multicultural and multi-religious society. He happened to be named as prime minister on Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by millions of Hindus across the world.
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion with more than 1.2 billion followers. The faith has Indian origin, where Mr Sunak’s family heritage is from.
Speaking about his hindu faith and hindu identity in 2020, Mr Sunak said: “It gives me strength, it gives me purpose. It’s part of who I am. I am now a citizen of Britain, but I proudly say that I am a Hindu. It was one of my proudest moments that I was able to do that on the steps of Downing Street. And it meant a lot to a lot of people, and it’s an amazing thing about our country.”
Although Mr Sunak is the UK’s first hindu prime minister, he is responsible for advising King Charles on appointments to the Church of England.
Is Rishi Sunak a practicing Hindu?
When he first entered parliament in 2015, Mr Sunak took his oath as an MP on the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Sanskrit text. And, according to reports, Sunak always keeps a statue of Hindu deity Shri Ganesh on his table.
During the Conservative leadership contest in the summer of 2022, when he came runner-up to Liz Truss, Mr Sunak was asked about his faith. He told party supporters at a hustings event: “I’m a practising Hindu and that’s how we’ve raised our kids. Just a few weeks ago I was back at my temple in Southampton where I grew up.
“Every year we have a family prayer day where we cook lunch and serve it to the community, and it was a very special part of how I was brought up and a special part of how I live my life today.”
Sunak is also the UK’s first teetotal prime minister since David Lloyd George. There is no clear prohibition on alcohol in Hinduism, but many Hindus choose not to drink.
Does Sunak’s faith matter?
Most of the public say that the ethnicity and faith of the UK PM is not relevant to their ability to do the job, according to a poll conducted by think tank British Future in 2022.
Asked: “How would you feel if the successor to Boris Johnson as PM was from an ethnic minority?”, 58 per cent of respondents said it was not relevant, 26 per cent said it was positive while only 10 per cent said it would be a negative.
Britain has also become used to having ethnic and religious minority cabinet members in the last few years. Rishi Sunak served as chancellor, the de facto number 2 position in government, from 2020 to 2022.
Proportion of Hindus in the UK
According to the 2021 Census, Hindus in England and Wales numbered 1,032,775 or 1.7% of the population. About 300,000 British Hindus of all ages were born in the UK.
The religious beliefs of former prime ministers
Britain first had an ethnic minority prime minister in Benjamin Disraeli, of Jewish heritage, 140 years ago. However, Disraeli converted to Christianity aged thirteen, reflecting the strong pressure on Jewish people to assimilate in the 19th century, especially among those who wanted to enter public life.
In the book God in Number 10, Mark Vickers writes about the “personal faith” of more recent prime ministersfrom Balfour to Blair. He found that relatively few have been orthodox Anglicans. These included: Stanley Baldwin (1923-1924), Harold Macmillan (1957-1963), Alec Douglas-Home (1963-1964), Edward Heath (1970-1974) and Theresa May (2016-2019).
The prime ministers of the 21st century, excluding Mr Sunak, have all been declaredly Christian. Although Liz Truss (2022), who is of Anglican heritage has said she is not a religious person.
Boris Johnson (2019-2022) was baptised a Catholic, making him the first prime minister of a Catholic background. But he converted to Anglicanism when he was in school.
Mr Johnson’s faith came under the spotlight when he married his long-time girlfriend Carrie Symonds at Westminster Cathedral, the seat of English Catholicism. The couple also gave their baby son Wilfred a Catholic baptism in September 2021.
Former prime minister Tony Blair (1997-2007) was often outspoken about his Christianity. In 2006, he referred to the role of his Christian faith in his decision to go to war in Iraq, stating: “I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people … and if you believe in God, it’s made by God as well.
In another interview, Mr Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell intervened when the PM’s faith was probed, explaining:”We don’t do God.”