SINGH ALONG: Inder Singh with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.” —Stephen Covey
By Sayantan Chakravarty

The words of Stephen Covey ring true in the case of Inder Singh whose contribution to the glorification of the Indian diaspora is significant. As Chairman and past president of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) International, a very large and credible overseas Indian body, Singh has helped create a band of global leaders within the GOPIO who are taking up worthy causes on behalf of their communities worldwide.

Over the last five years, California-based Singh has been able to spot talent and set up over five dozen GOPIO chapters (from a mere five) across 25 countries. Many of those who run GOPIO chapters across the world are, themselves, highly acclaimed overseas Indian citizens in their countries of domicile, and have earned a very high-degree of respect for their services to the community. Because of the talent that runs the GOPIO chapters, because of the value-based services that the GOPIO offers to the overseas Indian community, the organization has come to be much respected—in many ways a cut above the rest of the mushrooming overseas Indian bodies.

GOPIO MATTERS: Inder Singh with Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Vayalar Ravi, and former acting PM of Trinidad and Tobago, Lenny K Saith (right)

Singh was at the forefront pushing for a world body that would look after the interests of global Indians. At the time, in 1989, he was a president of the NFIA—the largest national body of people of Indian origin within the USA. He oversaw the setting up of the GOPIO

His efforts are recognized not just by those within the overseas Indian community, but by others who’ve seen him deliver. American historian Karen Leonard describes him as an “electrifying force, a social unifier..” while professor Stanley Wolpert says, “Inder’s tireless energy and total commitment to strengthening the social, cultural, and political ties that unite India and the United States of America in an enduring global partnership, have endeared him to every Indian and friend of India in America.”
Singh is currently chairman of the GOPIO, but between 2004-09 he served as its president and CEO. Many structural changes in the organization have been brought about, mainly because the aim has been to ensure that no personal agendas are promoted, and that terms of the governing body members are limited. 

But there was a time just over two decades ago when the GOPIO did not exist. Singh was at the forefront pushing for a world body that would look after the interests of global Indians. At the time, in 1989, he was a president of the NFIA—the largest national body of people of Indian origin within the USA. He oversaw the setting up of the GOPIO during a convention that was attended by 3,000 people from 22 countries. They included community leaders and political stalwarts of Indian origin. Singh continued to serve the NFIA, remaining president till 1992, and then moving on to become its chairman, a post he held till 1996.

Despite the plethora of political leaders who have helped expand the GOPIO worldwide and serve the interests of the overseas Indian community, the organization has remained largely apolitical. It has remained wary of all political leaders who could be using it to further their own political agenda. In some cases, breakaway groups, led by politicians, have tried to set up their own operations, but largely the GOPIO has kept clear of allowing political leadership to step in to anchor its activities.

In the year 2000, the GOPIO took up the cause of human rights violations of Indo-Fijians and sent a delegation to interact with the UN in Switzerland. In 2007, when a chief justice was sacked in Trinidad and Tobago, a demonstration was held outside the UN headquarters in New York. In 2008, when Indians were targeted in Germany, the GOPIO once again raised the matter internationally. The organization also decried the racist nature of attacks on Indian students in Australia, and took initiatives to stem the rot by meeting with Australian and Indian leadership. Singh piloted, successfully, a nation-wide campaign in the USA against the supply of highly sophisticated military hardware, including AWACS, to Pakistan that would endanger Indian interests. In the mid 1980s, while with the NFIA, he campaigned, successfully yet again, against the proposed drastic reduction in the immigration quota for Family Reunification provisions of the U.S. Immigration laws. 

A first generation immigrant from Punjab who went for higher studies to the USA in the 1960s, Singh decided to sell off a computer programming firm in the late 1990s, and has stayed with full-time community service ever since. He’s inspired a generation of overseas Indians to serve the GOPIO, and has helped raise the profile of India by organizing meetings and interactions worldwide. It’s no wonder then that the GOPIO itself has acquired leadership position among all global Indian diaspora bodies. As Ralph Nader says, “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Nader could well be saying that for Inder Singh and GOPIO.

January 2011

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