UK's richest Asians win citizenship

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The Independent Online
THE HINDUJA brothers, billionaire patriarchs of one of the wealthiest families in Britain, have quietly been granted UK citizenship.

News of the Government's decision to give passports to Srichand, 63, and Gopichand, 59, eldest of four brothers, comes just three days after the Home Office ruled that Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, was not fit to be British.

Discreet almost to the point of invisibility, the Hindujas are in fact the richest Asian family in Britain, with a fortune estimated at pounds 1.3bn. They have lived here since the early Eighties, and their business empire, the Hinduja Group, has offices in London, Bombay and Geneva.

Speaking from New York last night, Srichand - or "SP", as he's known - said citizenship would allow the Hindujas to "play a better and active role in British society" and give them more influence in "increasing Indian and British partnership on the economic front."

Britain was a convenient business base because it falls mid-way between US and Indian time zones. "I don't see much difference between Britain and India; the parliamentary and legal procedures and language are the same, so one feels at home."

Little was known about the devout Hindu family, who do not touch meat, tobacco or alcohol, until last year, when they agreed to underwrite the religious section of the Millennium Dome. Some feared their sponsorship of that section of the project - soon to be renamed the Faith Dome - was a back-door attempt to convert Britain to Hinduism.

But in an interview last month, SP told The Independent on Sunday that the family name, Hinduja, was "misleading". Critics "thought I wanted to convert the Christians to Hindus", he said. "Our faith is that we all belong to the human race."

The family are known to donate large sums of money to charity. Beneficiaries include the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Prince's Youth Business Trust and a magnificent Hindu temple in north London.

Their new citizenship will be grieved in India, as it is likely they will have to relinquish their Indian nationality. The Hinduja Group has a worldwide staff of 25,000. Its flagship company is Ashok Leyland, the Indian maker of commercial vehicles. The brothers' other business concerns include India's biggest oil importer, a bank in Switzerland, and India's largest cable TV network.