JITU PATEL is the former chairman and remains the most influential lay member, of the board of trustees of London’s Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Mandir in Neasden (popularly known as the Neasden temple).
It is the largest Hindu temple outside India when it was built in 1995, and also Europe’s first traditional stone mandir. As the former chairman of the trust, Patel regularly mixed with the political elite.
In February last year, he welcomed UK home secretary Priti Patel when she dropped into Brent to visit Neasden Temple’s newly opened Covid-19 vaccination centre. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir opened the centre on its premises across the street at The Swaminarayan School in Brentfield Road on February 2, 2021. As the focal point of the UK’s Hindu community, BAPS Neasden typically receives over 50,000 visitors a day during Diwali celebrations. Patel also attended a Diwali reception hosted by then prime minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street in 2016.
In 2006, he received then prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie at the gates of the Mandir as well as David Cameron and his wife, Samantha seven years later for the Hindu New Year celebrations. The initiative adds to the temple’s holistic Connect and Care outreach programme to support the vulnerable across local communities and the provision of Covid-19 antigen testing in its car park since June 2020. A mobile clinical laboratory to process the Covid test samples has been operating there since December 2020. The temple also provides daily summaries, in English and Gujarati, of important government guidelines including “debunking myths and dispelling misinformation to encourage uptake of the vaccination across BAME communities”.
Born in Kenya, Patel later moved with his family to spend his teenage years in Zambia, before arriving in London in 1978, where