OBITUARY:Sir Jay Gohel

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The Independent Online
Jay Gohel, former Chairman of the Anglo-Asian Conservative Party, successfully wrested away the traditional support of many hundreds of thousands of Asian voters from the Labour Party.

Always a keen observer of British politics, Gohel joined the Conservative Party soon after arriving in Britain in 1960 and became one of its most staunch leaders. He pointed out to Asian voters that Asian values are Tory values. ''We Asians are the original Conservatives,'' he said to Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister and a good friend, ''because for thousands of years we have believed in free enterprise, freedom of the individual, private education and hard work; you have just stolen our philosophy.''

Gohel believed that the Labour Party's support for Indian independence had led many Asians to support the Left, and he was determined to break this ''unholy alliance''. But he was astute enough to avoid the marginalisation that Asian politicians can find themselves in, becoming mere token spokesmen on immigration and race relations and nothing else. So it was not surprising to hear this tall, rather stooped, distinguished figure speak in successive Conservative Party conferences on such diverse matters as Rhodesia, trade- union reform and the British economy.

Throughout his life Gohel wore a Nehru jacket and a turban, even though he was not a Sikh. He felt this was the best way of showing newly settled Asians that their host country was happy to accept newcomers who looked different as long as they were committed to the national interest.

Although born into a distinguished Rajput family of Kathiawar State, Gohel chose to renounce his inheritance and make his own way in life. Educated in Britain and India, he was called to the Bar in 1941 at the Middle Temple. He returned to India and until 1948 worked in the Bombay High Court and went on to become judge and member of the State Council.

After independence, Gohel was selected for the Indian Administrative Service and became political adviser to Jawaharlal Nehru when he was Prime Minister. He went on to serve as India's representative on the United Nations' International Commission for Supervision and Control of French Indochina (Vietnam).

In the 1960s Gohel resigned from the Indian Government and moved to England where he teamed up with M.P. Shah, a Kenyan businessman, and became the founder director of the Meghraj Bank as well as of 12 subsidiary companies.

Gohel had a profound distaste for gossip, envy and divisions. He created harmony and brought a unity of purpose to the fledgling Anglo-Asian Conservative Society, which expanded to 30 branches in key marginal constituencies. This endeavour had a profound and long-lasting impact on the Conservative Party leading to the victories of 1979, 1983 and 1987, during which, for a period, I was privileged to be his Vice-Chairman. His contribution to politics was recognised by his being appointed CBE in 1984 and receiving a knighthood in 1989.

Jay Gohel was a quintessential British Indian: imbued with a sense of shared history and respect for the rule of law and constitutional probity; a democrat with a sense of mission; a politician with a desire to pioneer a new and exciting multicultural Conservative Britain.

He was a leader in the best sense of that much misused word - a gentle guru with a firm sense of purpose; always leading from the front but inspiring his followers to attempt to overtake him. His most enduring and indeed endearing quality was the twinkle in his eyes and a self-deprecatory sense of mischievous humour which disarmed even the most pompous.

It is no wonder that Margaret Thatcher so often referred to him as ''My Sir Jay Gohel''.

Nirj Deva

Jayvantsinhji Kayaji Gohel, lawyer and civil servant: born Kathiawar State, India 14 August 1915; Chairman, Anglo-Asian Conservative Society 1978-94; CBE 1984; Kt 1989; married (two sons); died 19 May 1995.