The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Divide and rule at Mittal bash
- Steel tycoon keeps media out, leaves some others fuming

London, June 17: London-based steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal appears to have upset dozens of people who consider themselves to be elite members of the Indian community in Britain by not inviting them to the wedding of his 23-year-old daughter, Vanisha, to banker Amit Bhatia, 25.

Others who did not think they knew him are puzzled and thrilled to have been asked. Indeed, a fault line has developed between those lucky enough to have been included in the magic circle and the disappointed who have been excluded.

In the sending of traditional gifts with the wedding card, Mittal has also operated a policy of divide and rule by giving expensive gifts to some and nothing at all to others. Indians, being Indians, have been comparing notes to establish where they fit into the Mittal pecking order — and the results have been occasionally devastating.

Some, who were initially delighted to be recipients of jade ornaments — Mittal has obviously made a bulk purchase at a discount — now find others have been sent Abu Jani outfits worth more.

A jade receiver said: “I feel like sending mine back.”

But the jade receivers are happy others lower down the social order have been sent either boxes of mithai or chocolates or, in some cases, apparently nothing at all.

A son of a leading tycoon is indignant at finding he has fallen into the “nothing at all” category. “To be honest, I don’t know him that well,” he said. Asked if he would be attending on all six days, the man replied: “You must be joking. Because it’s Paris, I’ll be going for two days. I wouldn’t spend six days at my own wedding.”

The word tonight in London was that Baroness (Shreela) Flather, who headed the committee which raised funds for the Memorial Gates built in honour of Indian soldiers who fell in two World Wars, had yet to receive her invitation card.

She has not endeared herself to Mittal, who was on the committee with her, by suggesting he could have been more generous in donating towards the fund. Lady Flather was not available for comment but her assistant in the House of Lords, asked if she had been invited, said: “I have no idea.”

Bhatia’s grandmother, Kamal Sahgal, a well-known figure on London’s Asian circuit has been asked by women who consider her a friend to get them invitations but has apparently not been able to oblige. The rule on who may or may not be invited has clearly been set by Mittal.

Those not invited may (or may not) be comforted to learn that the Indian and British press, as well as French journalists, who have suddenly woken up to the “vulgar wedding in Versailles” (as one wit there has dubbed it), have also not been invited to cover the wedding.

Mittal is known to be angry at the fact that the British press never mention him without dragging up the £125,000 donation he made to Labour, allegedly to persuade Tony Blair to write a letter to the Romanian government to support his bid to buy a steel plant in Romania. Mittal has always denied the two things were connected.

He issued a statement today making it clear he would not be inviting the media to cover the wedding in France from June 19-23.

“This is a private family wedding and both the Mittal and Bhatia families hope the media will respect this,” said the statement.

Selected photographs and some video footage will be made available, however, on a daily basis through a news agency. A statement will also be issued following the marriage ceremony. It is understood that a number of newspaper editors have been asked to come, as well as senior business contacts, as Mittal’s “private friends”.

The actual marriage ceremony is due to take place at one of France’s architectural wonders, the 17th century Vaux le Vicomte, 55 km from Paris. The estate is said to comprise the “finest chateau and garden” in France.The engagement ceremony will take place on June 20 at the Palace of Versailles, once the home of Louis XIV, France’s Sun King. Dinner on June 19 will be held at Jardin de Tuileries on the right bank in Paris.

The wedding is said to be costing Mittal £30 million. Since guests dripping with diamonds will be turning up for the “six-day circus”, one observer commented: “International thieves will be chuckling with delight.… I hope his security is adequate.”

The festivities will light up Paris. “The gardens of the Eiffel Tower have been cleared for the mother of all firework displays,” said a source.

A senior businessman said: “Everyone is criticising him, those who have been invited, and those who haven’t. The average Englishman must feel this fellow lives in Britain but ploughs his money into another country.”

However, one of Mittal’s friends spoke up for him: “He is a Marwari with a mission. He wants to become the biggest private steel owner in the world. Give him a chance. Once he has achieved that, I am sure he will get round to doing something for charity.”

Stung by criticism that he is famously “mean”, Mittal has told the Prince of Wales’ Trust that he will donate £1 million spread over four years to Charles’ favourite charity. Since he is an Indian passport holder, no one can accuse Mittal of angling either for a knighthood or a peerage.

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