LONDON MAYOR Sadiq Khan has led tributes to Ramniklal Solanki, a giant of Gujarati journalism and pioneer of British Asian media, who passed away on Sunday (1), after a brief illness. He was 88.
Mr Solanki was in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, when he suffered a stroke last week. He was admitted to hospital and passed away peacefully on Sunday surrounded by his family.
Mr Solanki was the founder and editor-in-chief of Garavi Gujarat newsweekly and Asian Media Group (AMG), which is today Britain’s biggest and most successful Asian media businesses. Among its market leading consumer and business titles are Garavi Gujarat newsweekly, Eastern Eye newspaper, Asian Trader and Pharmacy Business.
Paying tribute, Khan said the contribution of people like “Uncle Ramniklal to the British Asian experience cannot be overstated.”
“When I was growing up, there were publications who would often misrepresent or even erase the voices of people of colour,” Khan said.
“Many of my parents’ generation endured real hardship while carving out their place in our society but the connection and comfort community-led publications offered helped make that journey that little bit easier.”
Home secretary Priti Patel also paid tribute, stating Mr Solanki’s vision, characteristic strength and determination had “empowered and inspired generations”.
Patel added: “He would encourage my determination and work ethic and has said to me on many occasions: ‘If I have to work all hours, I’m happy.’”
Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Lord Tariq Ahmad described Mr Solanki as “an exceptional human being who put the values of faith family and humanity at the heart of all his work”. He also paid tribute to the “warmth, love and hospitality” of Mr Solanki.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner recalled the first time he met “gracious spirit” Mr Solanki following his election as the Brent North MP in 1997. Meeting at the AMG offices in south London, Mr Solanki shared his lunch with Gardiner and the two became acquainted with one another. “He wanted to get to know me and I realised what a privilege it would be to get to know him,” Gardiner reminisced. “And so, it has proved.”
Gardiner claimed Mr Solanki’s family were his “heart and motive”.
“They are what he is most proud of,” Gardiner said. “They are his inspiration and his joy. And they have returned his love in equal measure to the third generation.”
Lord Jitesh Gadhia called Mr Solanki “a giant figure within the British Asian community”.
The launch of Garavi Gujarat was a “defining moment” for the growing Indian diaspora, the Conservative peer said, providing “an invaluable bridge” between the subcontinent and the UK.
Lord Gadhia added: “The wider community has also lost one of its towering figures, a man universally admired and respected as a true pioneer.”
Mr Solanki’s long and distinguished career in journalism began more than six decades ago when he wrote for local papers in Gujarat and as the London correspondent of Janmabhoomi Group of newspapers headquartered in Mumbai.
But it was his arrival in England in 1964 that set him on the path to building what would become one of country’s most reputable ethnic media publishing houses.
Mr Solanki was urged by the then Indian High Commissioner, Dr Jivraj Mehta, to start a Gujarati newspaper to serve the growing Indian community in Britain. His ambition was to unite and integrate the community and to keep India’s rich cultural heritage and the Gujarati language alive for future generations.
With no financial capital and lacking the technological means to publish such a newspaper, Mr Solanki and his wife Parvatiben launched Garavi Gujarat as a cyclo-styled, black and white newssheet from a small terraced house in Wembley, north London, on April 1, 1968.
Garavi Gujarat publishing house was opened in 1976. The paper rapidly gained a loyal following, soon becoming the biggest-selling Gujarati newspaper outside of India and a focal point for the community.
For more than 50 years, Mr Solanki’s tenacity as a news journalist and his thought-provoking columns won him and the paper many plaudits, and the paper gained a reputation for its fearless, campaigning journalism.
The arrival of Asian immigrants from east Africa a few years later led Mr Solanki to publish stories of families who faced hostility as they adjusted to a new life in Britain. Many of the migrants suffered hardship and Garavi Gujarat highlighted their struggles, with Mr Solanki visiting refugee camps around the country, hearing first-hand accounts of those affected by the political upheaval in Uganda.
In 1972, Garavi Gujarat turned from a fortnightly into a weekly. In subsequent years, Mr Solanki interviewed every British prime minister, from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair.
Today Garavi Gujarat is published in the UK and US and has become the biggest selling Gujarati newspapers outside India.
One of the highlights of Mr Solanki’s career was helping to solve the murder of an Asian woman, Rokaya Bibi, in the 1970s. He became personally involved in helping the police solve this case. In the words of detective superintendent John Swain, who was in charge at the time: ‘One journalist, Ramniklal Solanki did much to publicise this murder in Gujarati newspapers. He kept in close touch with my office, and it was largely as the result of his enthusiasm in this case that it was ultimately solved.’
AMG also publishes Asian Trader and Pharmacy Business, aimed at independent news agents and pharmacists, respectively, in the UK. Its US publications include Asian Hospitality, whose readers are hotel and motel owners and Priya magazine, which features Asian businesswomen.
Its most recent acquisition was the purchase of Eastern Eye newsweekly and the Asian Rich List in 2009.
As the business expanded, AMG also hosted annual events associated with the newspapers and magazines. They include the GG2 Leadership Awards, the Asian Business Awards, Asian Trader Awards, the Vape Awards, the ACTAs (Arts, Culture and Theatre Awards) and Pharmacy Business Awards.
Each ceremony is attended by Secretaries of State, Cabinet ministers and the events attract more than 800 guests. In 2014, then prime minister David Cameron was the chief guest at the GG2 Leadership Awards.
Mr Solanki is survived by his wife Parvatiben, sons Kalpesh and Shailesh, daughter Sadhana and 11 grandchildren. The last rites were performed in Gujarat on Monday morning (2).
1. Lord Navnit Dholakia
“As the Editor of Garavi Gujarat, he was a legendary personality who set up the most successful newspaper empire in the United Kingdom. He was tireless and fearless in protecting the Gujarati language as a means of communicating with the Indian diaspora in this adopted homeland.
In his passing we have lost a champion who will go down in history as one of the giants of the Asian community.
2. Salman Amin (Pladis)
“Your father was truly one of a kind! A remarkable human, a thoughtful business leader, a pioneer, a visionary, a family man, and someone who touched and influenced thousands. May he rest in peace!”
3. Nihal Arthanayake
“They say we stand on the shoulders of giants, but your father’s shoulders were as wide as the Himalayas. His warmth, tenacity, intelligence and foresight will not be equalled. I hope that one day I can be one tenth of him. But both your brother and you are testament to his greatness. Sending you all much warmth and blessings from us all.”
4. Karan Bilimoria
“Please accept my heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to you and all your family. May God give you the strength to bear up and look ahead. I have known Ramniklal Solanki from the day I started my entrepreneurial journey three decades ago – he has been a constant figure I have looked up to and he was omnipresent with his wonderful smile! I will always appreciate the kindness he showed me.”
5. Kumar Iyer (Chief Economist at the Foreign Office, former Deputy British High Commissioner)
“Your father was a great man who broke boundaries and laid a foundation in this country or people like us. He will be remembered warmly and proudly and will leave a lasting legacy.”
6. Professor Jaspal Kooner
“Dad was a legend of his time and much loved by all family and friends alike. He touched many hearts with his love, gentleness, and lovely trademark smile. He will be greatly missed.”
7. Riz Lateef
“My deepest condolences to you, Kalpesh, Sadhana and the whole family… such a pioneering and inspiring man whose spirit shone brightly.”
8. Seema Malhotra MP
“Our hearts break – what a wonderful and special man he was and loved by so many. I feel so fortunate to have known him and so proud of his legacy. Our love and thoughts with you are all.”
9. Hasu Manek
“Shree Ramniklalbhai was indeed a true pioneer of ethnic media in the UK. It was his pioneering spirit underpinned by the unconditional and endearing love for his mother tongue Gujarati that paved the way for an enduring legacy. You have all made him feel proud.”
10. Amin Mawji
“Ramniklalji was a big figure in our midst and a true pioneer. A role model for us all. He will be very much missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this difficult time.”
11. Yogesh Mehta (CEO of Pickfords)
“A great legend of our times. Celebrate his life and beautiful memories. He has left a good legacy.”
12. Sangita Myska (BBC Reporter)
“He was an incredible man – a credit to you all and the community.”
13. Jay (Jimmy) Patel
“On March 1st in Ahmedabad, the founder of Garavi Gujarat and Asian Media Group passed away. Mr. Ramniklal Solanki was instrumental in helping the Gujarati community earn a voice in print media in the UK and the USA. More importantly to LPS of USA, AMG has played an important part in helping us over the years and providing a voice to our Leuva community. Much of the work from their company was pro-bono and in fact they had published LC magazine for many years. We are all proud to have been able to have had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Solanki and his family and pass our condolences to the Solanki family.”
14. Sir Nilesh Samani
“I was great saddened to hear of the passing away of Shree Ramnikbhai Solanki on 1st March in India. His contribution to British society and in the particular the Asian diaspora has been immense. He has been a doyen of UK publishing through his founding and leadership of the Asian Median Group. His flagship magazine, Garavi Gujarat, has brought knowledge and news to a wide section of the Gujarati Indian community and connected them with their homeland.
“More than his contribution through publishing, Mr Solanki has been a great human being. He has supported many charitable causes both in the UK and in India through the platform provided by the AMG. His dignity and humanity is most recognisable in the attitudes and behaviour of his family who have all followed in his footsteps to make the world a better place. May God receive and provide peace to his soul.”
15. Anant Shah
“Ramniklalbhai was a wonderful man who will be greatly missed by everyone who, like me, had the privilege of knowing him. Yours, in sorrow, Anant.”
16. Dr Mayank Shah (Chairman of the trustees of Swaminarayan Temple, Neasden)
“A sad loss not only to the family but the whole Indian community in the UK. BAPS has lost an old and esteemed friend. What a coincidence, our respective Dads had known each other for such a long time. Today is also my Dad’s death anniversary. Our prayers and thoughts are with you. Om Shanti.”
17. Paul Uppal (Former Member of Parliament)
“Your Dad was always kindly and charming in his demeanour. What a wonderful legacy he bequeathed to you all. You’re in our hearts and prayers.”
18. Keith Vaz
“The passing of Ram Solanki marks the end of an era. A colossus of British Asian journalism, honoured twice by the Queen, he was one of a handful of story tellers of the remarkable progress made by the British Asian Community over the last four decades. The success of his House of Journalism based in south London but with its roots planted firmly in Brent, North London was to chronicle on a daily basis the baby and then giant steps we have made.
As a person he was kind, gentle and affectionate but he was a shrewd, effective and massively successful businessman. Able to walk with Princes and Prime Ministers but never lose the Common touch. I can remember visiting him two days after my election in June 1987, 33 years ago, and his joy that Leicester has elected an Indian origin MP. But it was always family first, community and then country or I should say countries Britain and India. His love of Gujarat was such that it was only right that his last days should be spent there. We will never see his like again. Om Shanti Shanti.”
19. Rumi Verjee
“I was very saddened to receive this sad news about the passing of your beloved father. Your father was a giant of a man. A giant in the community, a giant in the family and a giant example of human dignity, grace and wisdom. We will all miss his amazing presence. I was very proud to have known him in my life.”
20. Nina Wadia and Raiomond Mirza
“Your father made such a huge contribution to so many lives. Nina and I send you and your family our most heartfelt support and wishes for comfort.”
21. Rajesh Agarwal
Today is a very sad day for the entire British Asian community. Ramnik Lal Solanki ji was and will always remain an inspiration to me and many other people around the world. He broke the glass ceiling himself & helped and others to do the same. A true legend!
22. Bob Blackman MP
RIP to a great man with a wonderful family. Condolences to his family, friends & employees.