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Kharagpur to House of Lords

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 30.05.04

London, April 30: Two more Indians, Sir Sushantha Kumar Bhattacharyya and Diljit Rana, whose names will be announced tomorrow among the list of new “working peers”, will join the growing Indian contingent in the House of Lords.

Bangalore-born Bhattacharyya, who is professor of manufacturing at Warwick University and an adviser to the Prime Minister on scientific and technical matters, has been dubbed “The Kumar at No 10”, a reference to the BBC comedy show, The Kumars at No 42.

Rana, a successful businessman, was recently appointed the first honorary Indian consul in Northern Ireland.

Bhattacharyya, who is married with three daughters, was born on June 6, 1940 and is the son of Sudhir Bhattacharyya and Hemanlini (nee Chakraborty).

Before coming to England, he was educated at IIT Kharagpur (BTech). He went on to the University of Birmingham. He is probably the first Bengali to be elevated to the House of Lords since Lord Sinha of Raipur was given a hereditary peerage at the turn of the last century.

Bhattacharyya is big enough to merit a full length biography — Kumar Bhattacharyya: The Unsung Guru by Adrew Lorenz.

“For more than 20 years, Professor Kumar Bhattacharyya has been the most influential but least well-known manufacturing industry expert in Britain,” says the blurb to the book. “He has advised two Prime Ministers — Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair — and a succession of senior government officials on matters ranging from the privatisation of British Steel to the future of the car industry.”

It adds: “Bhattacharyya is also a unique academic entrepreneur: today, Warwick Manufacturing Group, the unit inside Warwick University that he founded in 1979, is Britain’s answer to MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). WMG has annual revenues of £80m, educates more than 5,000 post-graduates and managers a year through its worldwide network of operations, and has won international renown with its philosophy of breaking down the barriers between academia and industry.”

It is said that as a teenager in India, he reportedly built a car from scratch “just for the hell of it”.

Hong Kong University has awarded him an honorary doctorate for services to industrial links between China and the former British colony. “It is always nice to have one’s work recognised,” he said when he was knighted. He believes, however, that a low profile is essential to carrying out his work successfully.

Kumar is also a personal adviser to South African President Thabo Mbeki. “There is just so much to be done in that country,” he said.

“We train a lot of people in South Africa, and if I can help with whatever knowledge I have then I am happy to. I do it for free.”

Corporate and social responsibility are at the heart of his beliefs, which is why one of his three inspirations is Tata. (The other two are Eiji Toyoda, the man who turned Toyota into a world-beater, and BMW).

According to one newspaper profile, Bhattacharyya “is one of few university heads of department to have the ear of government. He refers to the present Prime Minister and the one before last by their first names, Tony and Maggie. Tony even brought his friend Bill (Clinton) to meet the professor at his ever-expanding campus empire on the edge of Coventry.”

He once explained his philosophy: “My argument is that we need to train the cream of our youngsters to go into industry. We don’t necessarily want more engineers; we want better-quality engineers. We need to get rid of the idea that applied research is second rate. I’m not saying that we don’t need pure research. We should support that and make it stronger. It’s not a question of either/or. It’s both.

Bhattacharyya, whose hobbies are “family, flying and cricket”, will sit as a Labour peer, while Rana will be an independent.