The British Indian and Jewish Association (BIJA), formerly known as the Indian Jewish Association, will be exploring the lives and careers of notable members of the community every month starting July 2020.
The first instalment of the “Bagels and Samosas” virtual event witnessed Global Indian peer Lord Dolar Popat talk about his experiences and life journey, in a discussion moderated by BIJA co-chairs Dr Peter Chadha and Zaki Cooper.
With only £10 in his pocket, Lord Popat moved to the UK from Uganda in 1971. From humble beginnings, he has worked as a waiter, dishwasher, grill chef, chartered accountant and as a franchisee for Intercontinental Hotel Group.
Lord Popat, now a Conservative Peer and Party Whip, was appointed as the UK Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to Rwanda and Uganda in January 2016.
He fondly recalled receiving a phone call from the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, personally, 10 years ago this month, with an invitation to join the party.
“I was at a wedding at The Grove in Watford and I had left my phone in my hotel room. I had only gone back to get a shawl for my wife when I saw my phone ringing. It was the Prime Minister!”
Since joining the Conservative Party, Lord Popat has been keen to strengthen Indian and Jewish relationships. He hosted a debate at the House of Lords on anti-Semitism.
“We never thought we'd see anti-Semitism here like we see it in other parts of Europe. I wanted to open the discussion. It's not just a Jewish problem, it's a problem for every community in the UK. Silence can be formidable. Lies become truth. You have to speak up. Experience has shown us that they kick down the Jewish community first, then it's the rest of us!”
During the discussion, Lord Popat reminisced about first moving to the UK from Uganda and wanting to forge relationships with the Jewish community. When he eventually moved to Stanmore in north London in the 1980s, he remembers it to be a time when East African Indians and other Global Indians wanted to emulate how the Jewish community had integrated into British society.
“The Jewish community's history in the UK goes back 350 years, whereas Indian immigration is much more recent; but there was always a sense of helping newer communities strive and thrive - the Jewish community played an important role in helping us settle. We have a lot in common - we believe in hard work, determination, civic duty, philanthropy and family. We don't want hand-outs and we want to make our way with integrity! But even beyond our experiences in Britain, Israel and India have a long-standing connection, and it is still evident today.”
Lord Popat has written at length about his experiences in his book 'A British Subject: How to Make It as an Immigrant in the Best Country in the World'.
The peer has been a formative figure as an advisor to the Conservative Party in forging strong relationships with the British-Indian community.
“When I was asked to produce the ageing population report, I spent 18 months carrying out research and interviews. Aging is inevitable, but the way we age is not, and our community is aging much more rapidly than the host community, and not enjoying the process. Medical science, technology and healthcare have made this all possible and it comes with tremendous benefits, but an aging population also has many challenges.
“I studied the Jewish community and spent time with Lord Levy, president of Jewish Care, to understand how this particular community handled the challenges of this major problem in our society today. Now we have two generations and two cultures learning from each other.”
As the founding director of St. Luke's Hospice in Harrow, Lord Popat contributes towards educational and medical institutions via the Lord Dolar Popat Foundation. His work in East Africa involves building infrastructure in Rwanda and Uganda, including an airport, which he says has helped the region greatly in terms of export and tourism. He even took the Arsenal football club to Rwanda, much to the delight of locals.
“We're not going to take anything when we die. If we've got the facility to give, then we must give all God given hours.”
by Vidhu Sharma