Obituary: Narendra Makanji
NARENDRA MAKANJI, life-long socialist, internationalist, anti-racist and Labour Party activist died too early on 4th April at the age of 66.
Narendra was a supporter of, and contributor to, London Labour Briefing in the 1980s when he was the chair of Black Sections, a member of the Greater London Labour Party executive and a very active local Labour Party councillor, writing about local government, the struggle for black representation and opposing racism and fascism. His belief in the need for self determination and support for anticolonial struggles were the foundation for much of his political work throughout his life.
This was clear from his support for the anti-apartheid movement, his understanding of the situation in the north of Ireland and his struggle to oppose racism and fascism wherever it occurred. He was there at the 1977 Battle of Wood Green which mobilised the local community against the National Front and was arrested when opposing the holding of a National Front election meeting in a local school. He was also central to the Black Sections campaign to ensure that black people were represented at all levels of the Labour Party - a campaign vocally opposed by the then leader of the Labour Party.
He was instrumental in devising the strategies that led to four black MPs being elected in 1987 and also countless black councillors taking up office all over the country. He believed in the need to build alliances with others internationally and also through organisations such as the Anti-Racist Alliance and the Socialist Movement. His prominence on these issues subsequently led to the party machine of later decades, when dissent was not welcome, not even permitting him to go on the list of possible candidates for the newly formed Greater London Assembly.
Narendra was a man of principle who did not court political influence for his own benefit. He was guided by what he believed would benefit those who were disenfranchised. He had a wicked sense of humour and a capacity to debate, understand and enjoy his politics. This won him a very large circle of friends and later he excelled at social media as it offered him an international platform for his insights, jokes and campaigns. He enjoyed the resurgence of the left under the leadership of his good friend Jeremy and was very excited about what a socialist Labour government may be able to achieve.
Narendra was Labour at its best. He was first elected as a Labour councillor for Noel Park ward in Haringey in 1982 - one of a growing number of young councillors who both developed new local services and challenged central government policies which sought to further impoverish the lives of those he represented. He remained a local councillor until 2006, during which time he held important posts, such as chair of finance, and also championed causes now seen as mainstream but were then viewed as minority issues. These ranged from campaigning for a Black History Month to introducing policies throughout the council to protect animal rights and the environment.
His commitment to his core socialist beliefs was unwavering and continued long after he resigned as a councillor. He was a remarkable chair of the Whittington Hospital Trust Board between 2003 and 2007. He was particularly concerned to ensure that its employment practices encouraged the recruitment of black and minority ethnic staff and to improve the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
As a director of the Bernie Grant Trust he ensured that the history made by Bernie Grant MP, as a representative of the Black Sections movement, was archived and used to inform and encourage young people. His deep involvement in community politics was also exemplified by his work as a member of the board of trustees for the Selby Trust in support of its centre, whose wideranging activities included a food bank, environmental projects and youth activities.
Narendra was also a bit of a renaissance man. He liked to mix his politics with a dash of cricket, Bollywood and theatre. He also had a deep understanding of the importance of learning from history and struggle and his home was a treasure trove of papers and photos. It is hoped that these will form an archive in order to enable those who come after to take forward his beliefs and struggles. Many of the posts on the Remembering Narendra Makanji Facebook page also have a common theme - to honour his memory by continuing the struggles to which he was so devoted.
Jeremy Corbyn adds:
Narendra’s witty, ebullient and laid back style belied his deep commitment to socialism and antiracism. He also had a phenomenal knowledge of global politics, history and of the labour movement.
We first met in 1976 and he always claimed he was dragged into front line political activism by the persuasive powers of Bernie Grant and me! I put that down to his modesty, but also his wonderful style of supporting and empowering others.
Nowhere was this more evident than in his leading role in organising the campaign for black selfrepresentation in the Labour Party.
His niece, Seema Chandwani, made a very thoughtful comment that he burst open the door to progress and then held it open for others to pass through.
His legacy will be the way it was a joy to work with him, how he inspired people by his decency, wit and love of cricket and how he enabled others.
Thanks, Narendra, for being so supportive at all times, and for being such a friend.