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April - May 2008
Cllr. Navin Shah
Councillor Navin Shah who is the Labour Leader in Harrow Council, will be standing from Brent and Harrow in the forth-coming GLA election on 1st May 2008. Navin was born a year before India gained independence, in the city of Ahmedabad.
He was educated in Mumbai (Bombay) at the Academy of Architecture, came to London in 1973 and went to University College, London on a scholarship. Navin worked as an architect in the Covent Garden until he was fully committed to politics, becoming the Leader of the Harrow Council in 2004, ten years after he was first elected as a councillor.
Navin comes from the family who was involved in the freedom struggle and his grand father was the President of Ahmedabad Stock Exchange. Navin lost his father when he was eight year old and was brought up under the loving care of his elder brother Dineshbhai. Navin met his wife Rekha in London who is also a Harrow Councillor, through her sister Nalini who is a fellow architect. They got married in Harrow and have two children, Aneka and Neil.
If Cllr. Navin is elected on 1st May 2008, he will become the first Gujarati GLA member.
The Gujarati community, which is in the forefront in most fields, lacks behind when it comes to politics. We need more politically devoted people like Cllr. Navin Shah.
Q: At what age did you decide to enter politics and what made you choose Labour Party?
A: My upbringing itself and the influence of a Gandhian brother in Mumbai and the robust ideological dialogues with my fellow students at University College London laid firm socialist foundation and interest in politics. I was 26 years old when I made conscious decision to become active in politics and joined the Labour Party.
Given my deeply rooted socialist ideology with belief in justice and fairness to ALL, Labour Party was the natural and ideal home for me, my beliefs, hope and aspiration. It was not a difficult decision to make.
Q: When you first entered politics, did you know that one day you would become a full time politician? Who was the biggest influence in making that decision?
A: No, not at all. I only joined the Labour Party due to ideological stance and as an extension of my active work with Community Groups in Brent and Harrow. Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Barbara Castle were my political heroes on the home front who have inspired and shaped my political thinking, although I have great admiration for Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan.
It was the combination of all that and my desire and drive to work for the community and to provide a true and honest representation of our Indian community, our ethics, values and aspiration that led me to become a full time politician.
Q: Your wife is a Councillor as well. Did you inspire her to join politics or does it run in the family? Do you think any of your children will follow into your footsteps?
A: Rekha is and always has been a very independent minded person. She has been a member of the Labour Party for many years. Whilst my intense community and political engagement may have indirectly influenced Rekha, it was her decision and hers only to go into local government politics. It is unlikely that my children would follow our level of political involvement but both Aneka and Neil are engaged in community/charity work. Who knows where it may lead in the future!
A: Having been elected a Councillor in 1994, it took me 10 years to become the Leader of the Harrow Council, the first ever proud Indian to hold such a position in UK. The most positive aspect of my leadership being “bonding” Harrow’s most diverse community which led to Harrow Council receiving Beacon Award for Promoting Racial harmony, the only London Council to receive this national recognition.
We also successfully supported the bid to establish in Harrow the first ever voluntary aided Hindu School in the country. We laid the foundation, did the hard work but it may bear fruits under different administration. That is politics for you!
Q: You have been chosen as a Labour Party candidate to stand in the Greater London Assembly elections on 1st May 2008. What is your aim, your mantra, what would be your special contribution to GLA if you are elected?
A: As an architect by profession, a former leader of Harrow Council and a community activist in Brent and Harrow, I will provide extensive local and Council experience as well as professional expertise in areas like planning, community cohesion, housing and urban regeneration.
I will represent ALL sections of the community and focus especially on the aspirations and needs of the large Indian community in Brent and Harrow, promote better understanding of all faiths, particularly Hindu faith and our cultural values.
I am keen that we are not marginalised, that we have solid and genuine support. Through my work and support of my Labour colleagues, I would like to make sure that the incident like the gruesome killing of Gangotri do not happen, that the government, police and key agencies are sensitive to our culture, faith and practices, that they work with us, and remove even any perception amongst many community members that the government is not working with us on these issues which are close to our hearts.
Q: What do you think about Ken Livingstone who so often is at odds with the party but most electorate feel that he is doing a good job for London?
A: Ken has been a first rate Mayor for London who has transformed London as World’s leading Metropolis. He has vision and single minded drive to implement it. With Ken, you get what you see, an honest politician who speaks his mind. But that has not been a problem at all for the Labour Party or the Government because we are mature enough to accept constructive criticism. It seems voters understand and admire him for his honesty.
Q: I am sure you would not like to stop at being a GLA member. What are your future plans, ambition?
A: One thing at a time please. I would like to focus on my current aspirations of getting elected as a full time GLA member, unlike the current Conservative member representing Brent and Harrow who has four jobs and aspiring for a fifth one and failing to provide a good service to his constituents.
Beyond London Assembly, who knows? If an opportunity arises, it would be an honour to serve as a Member of Parliament.
A: I have no doubt that members of our diverse communities are getting exceptionally good deal from Labour Party. Our party remains the only party that is a natural home for diverse communities in UK with “from the heart” belief in multiculturalism and equality for all.
The gap you refer to about Indian representation at the highest level is a serious issue with all political parties. We can obviously do better if more members of our community become active on the political front. I am happy to confirm that this is being actively addressed within the Labour Party. I have recently met MP Tessa Jowell. You will soon have evidence and a positive response to the measures being taken to overcome this anomaly in the near future.
Q: How do you relax, spend your spare time; that is if you have any and what are your hobbies? What restaurant you visit and your circle of friends outside politics?
A: You are right. I am a workaholic and tend to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, leaving precious little spare time. But I love music and films, both Indian and Western with broad range of taste. I am a keen photographer, love travelling and have a special interest in art, heritage buildings and antiques. My family thinks I am a “junk” collector.
Q: Whom you do admire most, besides Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King and Churchill?
A: My admiration would extend to some great people like Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Albert Luthuli, Mother Teresa and creative geniuses like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Antonia Gaudi, Salvador Dali, Satyajit Ray and Ravishanker, a few among many.
Thank you Cllr. Navin Shah for your time and frank replies and opinion. On behalf of the readers of this prestigious magazine India Link, I would like to thank you and wish you all the best.