The appointment of Rishi Sunak (42) as British prime minister has not left the Indian community in Antwerp unmoved. Indians are first and foremost proud of ‘their’ prime minister, who holds the highest office in the UK since Tuesday.
It is not easy these days to catch someone from the Indian community in Antwerp. After all, on Monday they celebrated Diwali, a big traditional festival of lights. Wednesday is Indian New Year. As a result, many are on holiday or cozily retreating home with their families. But the diamond business never sleeps and most Indian diamond dealers are workaholics. So chances are you will find them in the diamond district even now.
On the Schupstraat, you can meet Aftar Singh. He runs the travel agency India Travel there. Singh is extremely proud that Sunak has made it to Prime Minister, though he has his reservations. “He is from rich background, and possibly that did lend a hand on his way to the top,” he says. Collaborator Samruddhi Palaye notes that she is 42, the same age as Sunak. “He seems very smart and I do have confidence in him. Above all, I think he can contribute to a positive image of Indians in the UK. It is unfortunate that some look down on our community, and hopefully his premiership will help change that,” she says.
Just like Sammy Mahdi
Diamond dealer Santosh Kedia also points out the negative undertone with which the Indian community has so often been spoken about in the past. “At India’s independence in 1947, Winston Churchill said all Indian leaders would be of a weak calibre, but today a prime minister of Indian origin heads the United Kingdom. Churchill rests in peace, but this fills me with very great pride.”
Shashin Choksi, also a diamond dealer and of Indian origin shares Kedia’s pride. “Sunak is primarily a Briton, just like I am Belgian. Many diamond merchants of my generation came to Belgium with their parents working in the diamond trade. It was uncertain whether they would stay, which made their integration difficult. But both I and the younger generation have made our home here. The young people are also quietly taking part in business and, little by little, politics. Rishi Sunak is certainly an example in that regard, as is Sammy Mahdi in Belgium.”
[Cd&V – the Flemish Christian Democrats – chairman Sammy Mahdi is the son of an Iraqi father and a Belgian mother. His father fled to Belgium as a political refugee in the late 1970s. Sammy Mahdi studied political science and later obtained a master’s degree in international and European law.]