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Lord Popat reflects on the amazing Indian migrant success story in UK

Lord Popat reflects on the amazing Indian migrant success story in UK

Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Lord Dolar Popat as part of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.

Lord Popat is a life peer in the House of Lords who was appointed as the UK Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to Rwanda and Uganda in 2016. With only £10 in his pocket, he migrated to the UK from Uganda in 1971 and from humble beginnings he went on to achieve business success and become the first British Gujarati to represent the Conservative Party in the Upper House of Parliament.

Your book ‘A British Subject: How to Make It as an Immigrant in the Best Country in the World’ conveys your life story, from the streets of Uganda to the House of Lords. What is the one memory or experience that you hold extra special?

Simply writing the book was a great experience for me. When my good friend Lord Michael Dobbs first urged me to put my story on paper some years ago, I was dumbfounded. And with my many unceasing community, political and business endeavours I had never considered taking the time out to write.

I’d like to share an excerpt from the foreword to my book, written by former UK Prime Minister David Cameron:

“For years, people have urged Dolar to tell his story. He’s always been too humble – and too busy. So, I’m glad he took the time to stop, sit down and write about his life. It is as instructive as it is inspiring.

“It should be read by people who want to learn about the history of Africa, India and Britain. It should be read by immigrants who are newly arrived in Britain. It should be read by those who are keen to get ahead in politics and business. And it should be read by anyone who wants to know how our country has become such a global success story.

“I believe we are the greatest multi-racial, multi-religious democracy on Earth – and that is in large part down to Ugandan Asians like the author of this book. I hope you enjoy Dolar’s story as much as I did.”

It was an immense privilege to share my life story in words.

How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?

The Indian immigrant experience in Britain has been an amazing success story. I think that in large part this is because British and Indians values are generally so similar, in their focus on family, community, faith, education and commerce. It’s a very good marriage!

The British Indian community’s achievements are a direct result of its members treating Britain as their home, and being proud to be British. There has been a focus on genuine integration. But we have been happy to make this country our home because Britain has given us so many opportunities to do well.

I have always tried to keep in touch with key leaders in the wider Indian community in Britain, for instance acting as strategic advisor to the Hindu Forum, or setting up the Conservative Friends of India. It’s important that we all keep trumpeting the positive impact that Indians – not just Hindus, of course, but Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, Christians and people from other faiths – have had on this country.

I am glad to say there has been progress in UK-India bilateral relations in recent years, with increasing political push from both sides. Narendra Modi’s government in India has been alive to the economic benefits of building relations with Britain, particularly in a post-Brexit environment.

Which one person has had the greatest influence in your life, and why?

Without a doubt, this person is my guru, Morari Bapu. I first met Bapu in 1984 at a religious recital, though it would be another decade before I fully became one of Bapu’s devotees. I was struck by how liberal he was for a Hindu, as his talk was more about the spiritual side than the religious. I found his approach very modern; he had a Western outlook and was very practical. His explanations of sacred texts were simpler and felt more relevant than other people’s. Bapu had a family (in contrast to the many spiritual leaders who remain single) and I liked his use of music and humour to accompany his messages.

Bapu teaches three main qualities: truth, love and compassion (satya, prem and karuna). These are the founding qualities that build bridges between different religions and communities, but also a firm base on which to conduct one’s personal life.

I have never met a greater man than Bapu. Having listened to him for the past 20 years, I find in his teachings and influence an insistent reminder that life has to be lived for a purpose. He has encouraged me in the idea that my whole purpose is to engage British Indians in the political life of this country, starting with a grassroots sense of civic duty to the community and the country as a whole.

I live by the motto that we are here to give, not to take.

What is the one lesson or words of wisdom that you try to live your life by that you would recommend to the next generation?

If I have to pick only one lesson, it is that civic duty is paramount. That is why I have devoted much of my life to increasing British Indian involvement in politics, particularly at the local level.

It makes me very proud to see four British Indian Cabinet members currently – something which was unthinkable twenty years ago. I encouraged those such as Rishi Sunak to run as MPs, and I am determined to see more talented young British Indians such as Ameet Jogia, my parliamentary aide, reach the top.

I’ve long held an appreciation for the importance of civic duty and the importance of the political system, though I never expected politics to become such a central part of my life. Alongside my business career, my political activism grew organically, starting locally in the South Asian areas of Harrow and Barnet in London, and with a grassroots sense of duty to my community and country.

My advice to any young person would be to get involved in local affairs.

Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive “In Conversation” series for ‘iGlobal’, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist will be catching up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons.

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