The gentle giant and one of the great pioneers of Asian media in the UK, Ramniklal Solanki has sadly passed away after an illness aged 88. He lives behind a legacy of inspirational stories about his own life as well as the thousands of other lives he helped to highlight on the pages of his media empire.
The Sixties had carried many immigrant communities onto the shores of the UK. Many filled the unwanted roles that could not be filled by the host communities. Many came as professionals and fulfilled the stereotypical jobs in medicine, engineering, law to seal the job gaps. Despite the opportunities, the Indian immigrants faced untold struggles and challenges.
Immerging from this backdrop was an idea of an Indian newspaper highlighting the plight of the new Indian community in Britain. With the advice from the Indian High Commission, Ramniklal Solanki and his wife Parvatiben created a black and white Gujarati newsletter from their small terraced house in Wembley, North London on 1st April 1968 with minimal resources. What they lacked in funds, was compensated by the belief in helping to unite the Indian community and keeping their heritage alive in an alien culture.
Mr Solanki already had experience in media when he wrote for local papers in his home state of Gujarat and then as the London correspondent for Janmabhoomi Group of newspapers in Mumbai.
Decades later, his media influence increased in now what is the largest Asian media group in the UK. Publications like Garavi Gujarat, Eastern Eye, Asian Trader and Pharmacy Business have become household names.
Mr Solanki’s publications became an influential voice for British Asians. Public bodies used them as a conduit to get their messages across to the British Asians. It indeed was campaigning journalism at its best.
The trend to empower and integrate Asians within continued as the Asian Media Group further developed the Asian Rich List and the GG2 Awards, which offered public acknowledgement of the great work done by Britain’s ethnic minorities. You know what you say matters, as the events and publications regularly attracted high profile figures from Prime Ministers to celebrities to take notice.
For his services to the country, Mr Solanki received the OBE in 1997 and the CBE a decade later.
Home Secretary Priti Patel fondly remembers Mr Solanki stating: “Generations of British Gujaratis including my parents avidly enjoyed the publication. He wrote with great empathy chronicling the plight of the East African Indian community through expulsion and the challenges of settling in Britain.”
“But as the British Indian community flourished, its success was celebrated and acknowledged by Ramniklal through new publications recognising the professional contribution of our community to the cultural and economic strength of Britain.”
“His vision, characteristic strength and determination has empowered and inspired generations,” she added.
The legacy continues to be embedded as Mr Solanki’s sons Kalpesh and Shailesh continue to build the brands. Garavi Gujarat, published in the UK and USA, has become the biggest selling Gujarati newspaper outside India.
Mr Solanki is survived by his wife Parvatiben, sons Kalpesh and Shailesh, daughter Sadhana and 11 grandchildren.
Ramniklal Solanki 1931 – 2020
Photos Courtesy of: Asian Media Group
Please also see: Eastern Eye