Glorious Gujaratis

Rupanjana Dutta Tuesday 22nd December 2015 09:05 EST

Gujaratis are known to make a mark everywhere in the world, from Canada to US to Europe to New Zealand- whatever be their job- whether it's business, politics, banking, legal, art, music or acting. There are very few who do not know leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah or Narendra Modi.

This week the world famous newsweekly Economist has paid a fullsome tribute to the journey of global Gujaratis in a special feature 'Going Global: Secrets of the world's best business people'- their footprints all across the world, and how they have paved way of success for generations to come.

The Economist is an English-language weekly newspaper that started its continuous publications under founder James Wilson in September 1843. For historical reasons, The Economist refers to itself as a newspaper, but each print edition appears on small glossy paper like a news magazine.

The article starts with anecdotes about the British raj, and how while the imperialists were trekking through African jungles, the empire's subjects from this coastal state, were merchants and travellers, journeying far and wide, under the cover of the Union flag. One such was 12-year-old Allidina Visram, from Kutch (Gujarat), who arrived in Zanzibar (Tanzania-East Africa) penniless in 1863. He opened his first small shop 14 years later, and then went on to opening stores at every large railway station along 580 miles of railway track through Kenya to Uganda in the early 1900s, providing supplies to railway workers. Then he opened more stores at Jinja or Lake Victoria.

He was later joined by another Gujarati man Vithaldas Haridas in 1893, more ambitious and adventurous and stomped 24 miles through the jungle to the small town of Iganga, where he started his own shop and more followed. These were just the beginnings.

The jourmalist writes in the article, “Gujaratis have never been put off by small matters such as distance or temperature...”

Business of course has been the main focus of the Gujarati people, though the younger generations are found diversifying into white collar jobs, or other top professions. They also have degrees in medicine and engineering, but they have the added knack of turning a degree into a business opportunity. “They own almost half (12,000) of America's independent pharmacies as well as one of the biggest chains in Britain, Day Lewis”, writes the journalist. Mostly found to be efficiently running businesses – from corner shops to hotels (Gujaratis run about a third of all its hotels and motels), start ups to the world's largest conglomorates- their commercial network is like that of the Jews, Chinese, English, Scots and Lebanese-extermely well-knit and wide-spread.

The article then goes to discuss the history from the eyes of experts established in world's best and renowned universities: the rise of Gujarati mercantilism, institutions known as Mahajans (the equivalent of European guilds), code and ethics of Gujarati business as early as 10th and 11th century, georgraphy, virtues of religion (Hindus and Jains), the conversion pattern (to Muslim sect of Bohras, Khojas and Memons), immigration and how in proportion to their numbers (63mn in India and 3-9mn abroad), they have claims to be the most successful- including being the driving force behind rise and fall of nations.

It further describes the success mantra of the Gujaratis, which is to attain practical goals in order to acquire knowledge, and spread wings. “Ethnic-Indian Americans have applied their practical knowledge to Silicon Valley; they are responsible for about a quarter of all startups there, and a quarter of those are thought to be Gujarati.

“Around the globe, they have come to wield huge influence in the diamond business. An impressive 90% of the world’s rough diamonds are cut and polished in the Gujarati city of Surat, a business worth about $13 billion a year, and Indians, predominantly Gujaratis, control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry.”

Unsurprisingly given their success abroad, they have been in the forefront of India's own success- and recent economic surge. The three wealthiest Indian businesspeople—Mukesh Ambani, Dilip Shanghvi and Azim Premji—are Gujarati. The qualities that shine through Gujarati dominated industries are essentially trust amd honesty. This is a big reason why the sub groups of Gujaratis have each congregated in one trade, and why most Gujarati businesses, except the very largest, remain run by families. “Gujarati entrepreneurs are risk takers but they know that the family network proves a safety net,” added the author.

Historically proven, Gujaratis have enjoyed their success in many British colonies, but were soon targeted by the locals after the British left. That resulted into mass expulsion from countries like Uganda and many arrived in Britain. One such Ugandan Asian- Lord Dolar Popat, arrived in Britain at the age of 17, slightly ahead of the influx with only £10 in his pocket. He later got a job in a Wimpy restaurant for 25p an hour, and worked so hard that his boss started giving jobs to other Gujaratis. By the time bulk of Ugandan Asians arrived, Lord Popat owned a three-bedroom house in Wembley and sheltered as many as 25 refugees. He took night courses in business study, completed a part-time accountancy course and in 1977 bought his first corner shop, with a sub-post office that gave him a steady income. Three years later he set up a finance company providing mortgages, and soon after bought his first care home. Hotels and much more followed later. Now he is worth about £70mn and was given a peerage by the Conservatives in 2010.

There are many such stories from the community that one can recall- whether it's Bhikhu-Vijay Patel or Charles Patel or our own Publisher/Editor CB Patel – they have all changed the face of Britain one way or the other. Will Gujaratis around the world continue to enjoy the same success in the future? As long as there are gaps in the market, it is inevitable that 'Gujaratis will be there to expoit them'.


Some three months ago in the aftermath of the Patel reservation and quota agitation in Gujarat, a senior journalist from The Economist came to our office and discussed with our Publisher/Editor CB Patel about the subject. CB, a former President of the oldest Patidar organisation in the UK, gave the journalist the reports already published in Asian Voice and Gujarat Samamchar. 
In a nutshell, the reservation and quota regime which is outdated and divisive in India, has definitely hurt the interests of the Patel community. 
Patels have thrived on challenges both at home and abroad. They, by and large are not demanding quota or reservation, which is almost impractical as well as the proud community does not wish to be downgraded to the so called 'low Caste'.
The journalist went back and that was the end of the matter. He later came back and met CB again and said that my Editor has asked me to make a special feature on Gujaratis for our Christmas special. CB gave him readily several names and contacts in the UK and abroad, for his research. To the credit of The Economist as a magazine and to that of the journalist, he met several contacts, travelled to Ahmedabad, Karamsad and other area of central Gujarat and spent some time in Surat. 
This brilliant and factual report about the values and traditions of Gujaratis is also an inspiration for us in ABPL. Quality of contents will ensure the survival of print media. 


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