By Prasun Sonwalkar
Ram Gidoomal, a businessman of Indian origin, is bidding to become the Mayor of London, seeking integration of migrant citizens, equal opportunities and a sense of belonging.
?The Asian vote is certainly important, not only numerically, but also because the community has some of Britain'smost impressive entrepreneurs and business leaders,? Gidoomal told me in an interview.
?I want people to be proud of London and to join me in a vision for an even better capital. They can do that only if they have a sense of belonging and of ownership. I?m a people'sperson,? he said about the thrust of his campaign for the June 10 polls.
The Christian People'sAlliance (CPA) candidate will be making his second bid for the post after a defeat in 2002.
?There has been a disproportionately low representation of Asians in the government and at boardroom level and they are now becoming increasingly aware of the value of their vote in changing that,? he added.
In 2000, Gidoomal was elected leader of the CPA and stood for the first mayoral elections, winning almost 100,000 votes.
In the run-up to the polls, he emerged as the most popular choice in a poll conducted by a website for having the best policies for London.
Gidoomal realises the importance of stoking the feelings of the Asian diaspora and projects his own story as one of struggle, survival and success in a foreign land.
?I also want to show to the one-in-three Londoners born outside the UK that we are making a dynamic contribution and that even if we came as refugees, as I did, the capital is open to all the talents and services we have to offer,? he emphasised.
Gidoomal'shas been a typical immigrant success story. He came to England in 1967, with his parents and family at a windy and cheerless Heathrow. Like thousands of other East African Asians, they had been expelled from Kenya. There, the Gidoomals owned large and prosperous business interests, but all that they were allowed to take with them was ?2,000.
As a student, he began to read the Bible and became a follower of Jesus Christ?thus he is someone born into a Hindu family, raised in the Sikh faith, educated at a Muslim school and now a member of the Christian church.
In 1988, while on a business trip to India, Gidoomal was taken to see Mumbai'sDharavi slums, the largest in Asia. The experience changed him and he decided to devote himself to the voluntary and public sectors.
On being asked about his specific plans for the non-White population in London, Gidoomal said: ?One issue that needs addressing is social isolation. I will deal with factors that promote loneliness among the non-White population, such as language problems.?
He also promised to end ?the economic slavery of non-Whites? and address the issue of discrimination.
?London has a lot of economic slavery. My policies include ones specifically addressing the problems of the ethnic minority communities… . I will commit maximum resources to tackling discrimination and racism, and to policies that tackle their causes,? Gidoomal said.
He also raised the issue of rampant unemployment among non-Whites, particularly Asians.
?I will use my skills and experience as a businessman to give hope to the unemployed. I will (work to) raise the funds needed to tackle this serious issue?one that ethnic communities suffer from disproportionate to their numbers,? he said.
Citing a 2002 report by the British Bankers? Association observing that minority communities suffer from discrimination in access to finance, Gidoomal said, ?I will ensure that innovative schemes tackle this issue?for example micro-lending schemes, mutual credit schemes and community finance.?
Indian elected chief of Northern Ireland trade body Diljit Rana, India'shonorary consul in Belfast, has been elected president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce (NICC) and has vowed to strengthen the region'sbusiness links with India.
A prominent businessman, Rana succeeds Mike Mills, a former chief executive of Ulster Carpets. Rana owns a chain of hotels and has extensive property interests in Northern Ireland.
Rana was presented the commission of appointment from the President as India'shonorary consul in Belfast by Indian High Commissioner, Ronen Sen, in March.
He promised to strengthen links with India as he addressed around 400 NICC members at the organisation'sannual lunch this week.
He paid a tribute to the work of his predecessor, particularly in the field of export development and said that he would continue to support the efforts of Northern Ireland companies selling overseas.
He said he was particularly keen to help a wide range of organisations develop export links with India where he maintains strong connections.
Rana also said that he would make it a priority to develop university links between Northern Ireland and India, which he saw as a key element in the development of both economies.
Rana, who holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster, led a delegation of academicians from the varsity to India in April to explore educational partnerships.
?I want to play a major role in furthering education and business links between Northern Ireland and India. We will work towards developing trade between India and Northern Ireland and we have a wonderful opportunity to attract students from India to come here to study,? Rana told the guests.
He also gave a commitment to vigorously support the development of tourism in Northern Ireland, which he said is a sector where significant growth can be made.
Earlier in May, Rana was elevated to the House of Lords.
(The writer is a UK-based journalist and can be contacted on [email protected])