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'Indira gave India nationhood & democracy'

March 13, 2008 11:45 IST

Leading NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul has said it was former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who gave India a nationhood and democracy.

"She was a great prime minister.. and a greater human being. She gave nationhood for India and she would stand up to the erstwhile USSR or the USA or anybody else," Lord Paul, who had written a book on Gandhi and was considered a close friend of her, said while paying tributes to her at the Nehru Centre in London on Wednesday night as part of the International Women's Festival, 'Sakhi'.

"Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi won us freedom but she (Mrs Gandhi) was the first prime minister who gave us democracy," he said.

She was also 'genuinely concerned that America would end up liquidating her', Lord Paul said.

Referring to the imposition of Emergency in 1975, Lord Paul, the British Ambassador for Overseas Business, said: "She is the only leader in the world who declared emergency and removed it."

"I supported her during the emergency and supported her when she was out of office. She offered me a ministry of my choice in her cabinet and I said no. Then she said 'will you become High Commissioner. I told her you are going down, not up'."

During the general elections in 1977, she was aware that she would lose the polls, Lord Paul said.

"In 1978, we invited her here. First, they (Janata Party government) refused to give her passport and subsequently they were so mean, they sent an instruction to Air India not to upgrade her, thinking that she would travel by economy class. We had sent her a first class ticket."

Lord Paul, Chancellor of the Westminster and Wolverhampton Universities, said he really became 'almost a devotee of Mrs Gandhi' after she facilitated him to bring his ailing daughter to London for treatment in 1966.

Lord Paul, Chairman of the $1.5 billion Caparo Group, said later on, when her son Sanjay Gandhi wanted to build a car, Indira asked him to go to Sanjay's factory and give his opinion whether it could be done.

Describing Sanjay as a temperamental but extremely gracious person, Lord Paul told Gandhi that he would be able to build the car but whether he could control the cost was doubtful.

"He did make a car and it gave him confidence. If he was alive he would have been a great leader," he said.      

Answering questions, Lord Paul said Gandhi's real qualities were known only after her death. "I don't think India had a prime minister of her calibre. Rajiv Gandhi had a good innings. But Mrs Gandhi was completely different."

Replying to another question, Lord Paul said, "It was she (Indira Gandhi) who first tried to open the economy and invited NRIs to come and invest (in India). Unfortunately, people around her did not allow it."

H S Rao in London
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