N. R. Narayana Murthy, one of India’s richest people, had mixed feelings when he first heard about the man who would become his son-in-law.
“I, too, was a little sad and jealous when you told us you had found your life partner,” he wrote to his daughter Akshata Murty in a letter, published in “Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters.”
“But when I met Rishi and found him to be all that you had described him to be – brilliant, handsome, and, most importantly, honest – I understood why you let your heart be stolen,” he said about a certain Rishi Sunak, who became Britain’s Prime Minister on Tuesday after emerging the victor from the chaotic contest to replace Liz Truss.
Sunak will not only be Britain’s youngest leader for 200 years, he is the country’s first non-White prime minister. And thanks largely to his wife Murty, Sunak will be one of the richest people to reach the top of the political establishment.
Murty has a 0.93% stake in her father’s Indian software company, Infosys, worth approximately $715 million. That represents the bulk of the couple’s estimated net worth of £730 million ($830 million), according to the Sunday Times Rich List, an annual ranking of the wealthiest people in Britain.
Even Queen Elizabeth wasn’t as rich – the Sunday Times put the late monarch’s net worth at £370 million (about $420 million) before she died. And this super-rich status nearly derailed Sunak’s rise to the top.
In April, it was reported that Murty enjoyed a tax status in the UK that meant she could legally avoid to pay taxes on her foreign earnings. Sunak, who was Chancellor to the Exchequer at the time, had recently pushed the overall burden on UK taxpayers to its highest level since the 1940s.
After attempting to ride out the storm, Murty put out a statement that confirmed the reports. “In recent days, people have asked questions about my tax arrangements: to be clear, I have paid tax in this country on my UK income and international tax on my international income,” she wrote on Twitter. “This arrangement is entirely legal and how many non-domiciled people are taxed in the UK. But it has become clear that many do not feel it is compatible with my husband’s role as Chancellor.”
Non-domiciled status has attracted controversy in the UK – tax campaigners say it benefits the super-rich. Acknowledging the controversy, Murty said she would renounce its advantages.
“I understand and appreciate the British sense of fairness and I do not wish my tax status to be a distraction for my husband or to affect my family. For this reason, I will no longer be claiming the remittance basis for tax,” she added on Twitter.
Sunak referred himself to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests over the furore, which came as the country was already in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis. He was later cleared of breaching the ministerial code.
When asked about the couple’s wealth in an August interview with the UK’s Times newspaper, Sunak said, as he was campaigning against Truss in his first bid for the leadership: “I do think in this country we judge people by their character and their actions, not by what’s in their bank account. I am fortunate today but I didn’t grow up like this. I worked really hard for what I’ve got, my family worked hard and that’s why I want to do this job.”
From fashion to politics
Murty was not born into riches.
Infosys was started by her father in 1981, a year after her birth. “In those days we could not afford a telephone at home, and my then colleague, Arvind Kher, came all the way from our office in Nariman Point (in Mumbai) to our house in Bandra (a Mumbai suburb) to tell me that your mother had delivered you,” N. R. Narayana Murthy wrote in “Legacy.”
“Life has changed for us since then and there is enough money, but you know our lifestyle continues to be simple,” he added in the letter.
They married in 2009 in the Indian city of Bangalore. The Indian press described the party as a “no-frills” event attended by close friends and family, noting that the Murthys “are known to respect their privacy.”
Murty went on to found womenswear brand Akshata Designs, described in a 2011 Vogue India mini-profile as “local craftsmanship meets contemporary Western silhouettes.”
In the interview, Murty said her love of clothes “baffled” her mother, “a no-nonsense engineer” confused as to why Murty “would spend so much time creating different outfits from my wardrobe.”
The pair went on to have two daughters, Krishna and Anoushka, and in 2015, Sunak was elected as a Member of Parliament in the safe Conservative Party seat of Richmond in North Yorkshire.
In the UK, she and Sunak are listed as directors of a venture capital firm, Catamaran Ventures, which was founded by her father, and Murty is listed on Companies House as the director of Digme Fitness, a high-end gym chain that went into administration after struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As Sunak made his first pitch for Conservative Party leader in August, he told the Times that what made the pair tick were their differences.
“I’m incredibly tidy, she’s very messy … I’m much more organized, she is more spontaneous … she is not going to love me for saying this but I’ll be honest with you, she is not big on the whole tidying thing. She is a total nightmare, clothes everywhere … and shoes … oh God shoes…” he said.
Sunak does not drink, a fact that irritates Murty, he said. “I really tried [to drink alcohol],” he told the Times. “My family all drink, my wife definitely drinks. It massively irritates her that I don’t. My parents do, my dad was upset that I wouldn’t share a glass of wine with him but thankfully my younger brother came along and that was all right.”