The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Two new Indians in UK Who's Who

London, Jan. 8: Shami Chakrabarti, 35, the lawyer who is director of Liberty, Britain's premier human rights group, and the businessman Dinesh Dhamija, 52, who pocketed '92 million by selling his eBookers Internet travel firm last year, have been included in the 2005 edition of Who's Who, the British establishment bible.

These two people of Indian origin are among the 1,000 new entries in the '140 book, along with Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman and Kristin Scott Thomas; guitarist and songwriter Eric Clapton; tennis champion Tim Henman (whose main claim to fame is not winning Wimbledon); the artist Jack Vettriano; and the chef Jamie Oliver, who is the youngest new entrant.

There is an entry for Peter Tatchell, who once stood unsuccessfully as a Labour parliamentary candidate. Since then, he has invented a new career as Britain's most aggressive gay rights campaigner.

Just as revealing as the new names is the way in which the book's publishers, who are bringing out their 153rd edition on Monday, choose the new names. The identities of the selection panel are never disclosed and neither are the criteria used to pick new names.

This helps Who's Who to maintain a certain mystique but anyone who is a member of the House of Lords or the Commons, a Queen's Counsel or a high-ranking officer in the armed forces gains automatic entry and remains in the book, with its 30,000 names, for life. Britons who receive honours such as the Companion of the British Empire or the Order of the British Empire also qualify for entry.

The problem for Who's Who is defining who really is who in a celebrity crazed culture. As far as the tabloids are concerned, anyone able to read the TV autocue invariably becomes a star, as do page three girls whose sole function seems to be to teeter from one showbiz party to the next.

Who's Who keeps them out but sometimes it is simply too slow to recognise genuine achievement, especially among Asians. Only now has it found room for Dinesh Dhamija, who began his business with his wife, Tani, in 1980.

Occasionally, Who's Who has included Indians who are relatively unimportant but who have managed to persuade dozens of their friends to write in and champion their cause.

The case of Shami Chakrabarti, who resembles Arundhati Roy in some ways, suggests the British establishment is now anxious to ensure some Indian women do break through the glass ceiling.

As director of Liberty, Chakrabarti, who was born in London of Indian parents, has to take a role that is hostile to the government on a whole raft of issues, ranging from its anti-terrorist legislation, asylum laws and Guantanamo Bay.

She read law at the London School of Economics, practised briefly as a barrister and then joined the Home Office's legal department in 1996. In her private life, she is a Mrs M.J. Hopper and has a young son, but she has said that she owes her passion for human rights to her accountant and bookkeeper father, who came to Britain with his wife in the 1950s.

Although 'Chakrabarti' is not the easiest name for the average British person to pronounce, Shami has quickly become a skilled and eloquent performer on television since she took over as director of Liberty in 2003.

Not for her the long-haired Bengali look; instead, she affects a boyish hairstyle and her appearance on high profile tv programmes such as Question Time has provoked some Britons to admit they rather 'fancy' her.

Although the Who's Who is British, it does have foreign personalities. Kidman's former husband, Tom Cruise is already there, and only last year Sachin Tendulkar got in, yet another example of the slowness with which the selection process works.

Email This Page