Imran A. Chowdhury, an award-winning British-Bangladeshi member of Britain's ruling Conservative Party, has been silently working for years for the empowerment of the diaspora and encouraging them to get into the mainstream of their adopted country.
Nadeem Qadir, Roving Editor of the Asian Age, spoke with him recently at London's popular Covent Garden area. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Nadeem Qadir: Imran A. Chowdhury is first a freedom fighter who loves his motherland Bangladesh and is often lost reminiscing about the past. So you fought in the war and joined the army?
Imran A. Chowdhury: I was in India first as a refugee and that memory still haunts me, but I relish the days as a freedom fighter and when I left Bangladesh for Britain in 1991 on a Business Visa I carried that memory and have been working for the British-Bangladeshi diaspora almost from then on. I joined the 8th Bangladesh Military Long Course in 1981 and left the army in 1986 as a Lieutenant.
NQ: How did you start your life in Britain?
IAC: I worked for some time and then I realized that if I could open a restaurant which would offer a different menu than any other Indian restaurants I might be lucky. I named it "Le Spice Merchant" in Birmingham and I am glad it worked. The menu is a fusion of Bangladeshi food that would suit British taste.
NQ: Let us get down to you your work and thoughts for the diaspora.
IAC: Nadeem, my first message to the British-Bangladeshis is adapt to the British way of life and acclimatize with conditions here. Then, put the politics back in Bangladesh in the back-burner and give priority to politics here. Like I have joined the Conservative Party and am slowly making inroads to make a place for myself. In that way I work for my community as well as my adopted country. Maybe one day I can help Bangladesh in policy matters as a British politician.
NQ: Why the Conservative and not the Labour Party, which has three Bangladeshi origin lawmakers?
IAC: I remember it was Edward Heath who welcomed Bangabandhu in London when he arrived from Pakistan in early January 1972. He broke all protocol to welcome him at the 10 Downing Street. That was what drew me to the Conservative Party. Besides, my party took several decisions which were so useful to many of us here.
One of them is the Immigration Act of 1971 under which those already British citizens could bring their families from back home. The other is the Right to Buy law under Margaret Thatcher, which allowed residents under council housing to buy their homes. Thus more people of the lower income bracket now own homes.
NQ: What else are you doing as a community leader?
IAC: I organize fund raising for community works and non-governmental organisations like OXFAM and have been awarded "Achievement Award from the Worshipful Mayor of Northampton, UK and Freedom of City of London Award." Besides, I brief young people of the diaspora on how to get into the mainstream and how best they can offer their skills for Britain.
NQ:What are your thoughts on bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Britain ?
IAC: Dhaka should make forceful endeavors for helping in ship building, leather industries, service industry and human resources. I think two or three years after BREXIT Britain will move from service to production and Dhaka must keep an eye on that.
NQ: Thank you for your time.