NEW DELHI — Forget Rishi-mania, it’s Akshata Murty who’s stealing the show at the G20.
The U.K. prime minister’s wife, who happens to be the daughter of one of the richest men in India, arrived in New Delhi with him on Friday and has barely left his side since.
Downing Street’s official picture reel is in overdrive with pictures of Murty. On Friday afternoon she joined Sunak to meet schoolchildren at the British Council, where she impressed U.K. officials by kicking her shoes off to play soccer.
In the evening, Murty and Sunak were photographed arm-in-arm going out to dinner, after a reception with Indian business leaders was cancelled. On the couple’s official Instagram accounts, followers can find a photo of Murty helping the PM adjust his tie before they stepped off the plane.
For a No. 10 Downing Street team keen to make Sunak’s first trip to India a success, Murty is a powerful diplomatic weapon.
Her parents, the billionaire IT magnate N. R. Narayana Murty and his wife Sudha, are prominent public figures in the country. Sanjaya Baru, a political commentator, said public perception of the Murtys was “by and large positive” because they represent “a great middle-class success story.”
Sunak told reporters traveling with him that the trip was “obviously special” given his Indian heritage and family links. “I saw somewhere I’d been referred to as ‘India’s son-in-law,’ which I hope was meant affectionately,” he said. “I’m excited to be back and it’s nice to have Akshata here with me.”
Over the weekend, Murty will take part in the G20 spousal program which includes a visit to millet fields and a 45-minute tour of the National Gallery of Modern Art.
But she has also set up engagements that align with her own interests, visiting the British Council, which promotes cultural and education ties, once again on Saturday to meet young female fashion designers. She once ran her own fashion brand and was named the best-dressed person in the U.K. this year by high-end magazine Tatler.
Already during this trip, Murty has grabbed local headlines for her sartorial choices — the Indian Express described her style as “a fusion mix of Indian and Western fashion sensibilities.”
Clearing the stage
Murty will be all the more conspicuous this weekend given the absence of two other high-profile political spouses — from the U.S. and Canada.
U.S. First Lady Jill Biden is absent from the summit. She never intended to travel for the gathering due to her teaching schedule — and even if she had planned to go, her trip would’ve been derailed by a positive COVID-19 test earlier this week.
And this year’s G20 summit marks Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first official solo sojourn since he announced his separation from Sophie Grégoire Trudeau after 18 years of marriage.
News that Canada’s most recognizable political power couple had split made headlines in foreign capitals including London, which they visited last spring for King Charles’ coronation, and Washington where they were hosted by the Obamas at a glitzy State Dinner in the months after Trudeau gained power in 2015.
There may be something to be said for an understated Trudeau visit to New Delhi, given there’s still talk of “that India trip” in 2018 — a diplomatic wreck of an expedition starring the Trudeau family in “true Bollywood-style bling.”