MUMBAI: If a now disgraced billionaire brought back the sword of Tipu Sultan from UK in 2004 to its real scabbard in Karnataka after 200 years, an ace British Indian banker is now making sure the Rig Veda enters its Parliament.Britain’s newest peer swore his oath of allegiance on an ancient book—the Rig Veda. At 46, Jitesh Gadhia is currently the youngest Briton of Indian origin in the House of Lords, where the average age of 800 peers is about 69.
An investment banker of repute, Gadhia has been part of some of the largest investment flows between the UK and India and also helped craft Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech last November to a full house at Wembley Stadium.
A rainmaker with storied European franchises like ABN and Barclays and private equity giant Blackstone, Gadhia has also been responsible for several headline-grabbing, cross-border deals during the buyout boom years of 2000-7, including the biggest involving an Indian business-Tata Steel’s acquisition of Corus.
Now the banker and businessman of Gujarati descent has made history by pledging allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II using the ancient Vedic text of the Rig Veda, considered the world’s oldest religious scripture in continuous use and dating back to 1500 BC.
Gadhia came to Britain as a two year old in 1972 when Idi Amin expelled Asians from Uganda. He was picked by former Prime Minister David Cameron to join the upper chamber of the British parliament and sworn in officially on Monday in a traditional ceremony dating to 1621, when King James I delegated the introduction of new peers to the Garter Principal King of Arms.
For some years now, new members have been permitted to choose a religious text other than the Bible but no one has used the Rig Veda before. In the US, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim in Congress in 2007, taking his oath with a Quran that had been once owned by Thomas Jefferson, according to the Washington Post.
The 167-year-old first edition copy of the Rig Veda that Gadhia will also be gifting to the Parliament has special significance. “I wanted a copy of the original Sanskrit text but my research took me to Max Mueller and finally my intense search bore fruit and I managed to source it from a rare books specialist,” Gadhia told ET from London, soon after the ceremony that was attended by his extended family, friends and fellow parliamentarians cutting across party lines.
Newly created peers, dressed in red ermine robes, take a writ from the serving monarch, called the Letters Patent, to be read out in front of the assembled chamber. As part of the investiture ceremony, new members pledge their allegiance to the monarch and sign the roll of peers and the House of Lords code of conduct.
“A peerage is a job, not an honour. I will be joining Parliament at a defining moment in British history as we grapple with the new realities post-Brexit. We stand at a crossroads for the UK and its future relationship with the rest of the world,” he said.
Gadhia said he had three priorities.
“Firstly, to help secure the best possible future for UK financial services, which represent over 2 million jobs, underpin business investment and generate substantial tax revenues that pay for essential public services,” he said. “Secondly, to help strengthen our international economic links, notably between UK and India and finally, and certainly not least, to connect parliament and key decision makers with 1.5 million British Indians, particularly the next generation.”
Since 2014, Gadhia has been championing financial sector reforms and advising the treasury to take hard decisions on Britain’s banks as a member of the board of UK Financial Investments (UKFI). This had been incorporated to hold the government’s stakes in bailed-out financial institutions such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and UK Asset Resolution that cumulatively represented assets at that time of more than £100 billion.
Fellow peer and noted economist Meghnad Desai welcomed his new colleague.
“He’s a very well-deserved candidate,” Lord Desai said. “He knows the British economic scene and he will get enough opportunity to shape public policy and debates. This is always a very fulfilling job.”