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'Lord Paul was seen as alternative Indian High Commissioner in 1980s UK'

NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul, a close confidant of late premier Indira Gandhi, was described in British diplomatic circles as an "alternative Indian High Commissioner in London" in 1980s, according to newly-declassified UK government documents.



London: NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul, a close confidant of late premier Indira Gandhi, was described in British diplomatic circles as an "alternative Indian High Commissioner in London" in 1980s, according to newly-declassified UK government documents.

Paul was shortlisted among 10 key members of the former Indian Prime Minister's close network as part of "personality notes" marked "confidential" prepared for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the wake of Gandhi's assassination in October 1984.

"Paul has become an influential figure in Indo-British relations? Mr Paul has major interests and powerful contacts in India. He enjoys excellent access to Mrs Gandhi and her son Rajiv, to the point where he has been dubbed at times as an 'alternative Indian High Commissioner in London'," reads the note, now open to the public at the National Archives in London.

Paul, who was then 52, is also described as a "reliable source of information on thinking in Delhi" and highlighted as a Trustee of the Festival of India held in 1982.

"Caparo is more than a successful business enterprise - it is a story of people, of values and of human effort. Above all it is a story of faith and family" - Lord Paul, Chairman and Founder.

Paul founded Caparo Group in 1968 with interests predominantly in the design, manufacture and marketing of value added steel and niche engineering products.

Paul's name features on a list of key members in the Indian government during Gandhi's prime ministership, including President Giani Zail Singh, vice-president R Venkataraman, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P V Narasimha Rao.

Zail Singh's command of English being "poor" finds a mention along with his unimpressive tenure as Home Minister, "a key position he owed to his unquestioning loyalty to Mrs Gandhi (and earlier Sanjay) rather than to ability".

Another profile which stands out is of Maneka Gandhi, widow of Sanjay Gandhi and then president of the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch.

"Maneka Gandhi is more of a personal embarrassment to Mrs Gandhi, and more particularly to Rajiv, than a political force? Nevertheless she is politically astute and ambitious, a very effective speaker in public, is well-known and can afford to play her politics long," reads her note.

The profiles seem to have been compiled by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with the help of the British High Commission staff in New Delhi, led by then high commissioner Robert Wade-Grey.

Gandhi herself is described as "a lonely person with few close friends" and "very sensitive to criticism and unforgiving towards those who she thinks have let her down or have slighted her personally".

They formed part of the background briefing documents for Thatcher and Princess Anne, who represented the British government and Queen Elizabeth II respectively at Gandhi's funeral in November 1984.

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