Inder Singh, a tireless leader and an inspiration for Indian Americans

Ritu Jha-

 

Visionary Indian American community leader Inder Singh, who died Friday after a long illness, shot to nationwide fame when he testified in 1988 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the massive military aid Pakistan was then getting.

Inder Singh, who was based in Los Angeles, California, and was known for helping to set up many Indian American community organizations, died just three days shy of his 87th birthday.

Recently, Inder Singh had advocated the renovation of the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco into a museum and succeeded in persuading the Indian government to fund the project.

Inder Singh was a past president and chairman of the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) and a past president and chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), a voice of the Indian diaspora whenever visa-related issues arose or the community needed support from the Indian government.

Paying tribute to him, Dr. Thomas Abraham, GOPIO chairman, and founder president and chairman of GOPIO International said, “I have had the longest association with Inder Singh in Indian community activities. He became an Indian diaspora institution in Southern California and whenever any broad-based pan-Indian community event happened in Southern California, it was under his leadership.

“It is a great loss for all of us, the GOPIO, the Indian community in the USA and the Indian diaspora. May his soul rest in peace.”

Dr. Abraham recalled his first talk and meeting with Inder Singh in late 1981 after he had founded the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) in New York and served as its president for five years. He saw a news report in the India Abroad newspaper about Inder Singh who had organized an India Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles area under the banner of India Independence Day Celebration Committee.

“I called him up and shared our successful experience of bringing all Indian community groups in the New York area under one umbrella of the FIA and suggested that he do likewise,” said Dr. Abraham.

Inder Singh changed the group to FIA Southern California and organized the next celebration under that banner. “Since then, I had worked with him closely and brought him into the NFIA and organized a very successful national convention in 1986 in Los Angeles,” recalled Dr. Abraham.

“I handed over the NFIA presidency to Inder in 1988. The same year, he came to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against massive military aid to Pakistan,” Abraham said. In 1989, when NFIA held the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in New York, Inder Singh was NFIA president. A team player, he traveled to Canada to reach out to the community there and bring it to the convention.

He took over as president of the GOPIO in 2004 and served as its chairman from 2009 through 2016. Later he became an executive trustee of the GOPIO Foundation, a position he held till his death.

One of Inder Singh’s major contributions in Southern California was to launch the Indian Heritage Foundation, a society that celebrates and honors academic excellence by and achievements of Indian American youth. Since 1987, Inder Singh and his team had honored Indian American high school students who excelled in academics as well as extracurricular activities.

Inder Singh was also responsible for honoring the forgotten Gadar Party heroes. As president and later chairman of the GOPIO, he sensitized the government of India to organize a symposium on Gadar heroes and their contribution to the Indian freedom movement during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. He was also instrumental in India deciding to renovate and establish the Gadar Center as a museum in San Francisco.

A Republican, Inder Singh co-founded the Asia Pacific American Republicans Coalition which became an officially chartered organ of the California Republican Party in the 1990s. In the late 1990s, he was involved with the National Asia Pacific Center on Aging. With offices in most states, the national body of Asian Americans caters to the needs of Asian seniors.

Jeevan Zutshi, a founding member of the Indo-American Kashmir Forum and US coordinator of the Global Kashmir Pandit Diaspora (GKPD), told indica, “I know Inder Singh since 1990 as I recall meeting him for the first time when he was FIA president of Southern California and I was vice-president of FIA Northern California.”

Inder Singh and the India West newspaper did a youth awards night annually and Zutshi came to know him through that also. He also interacted with him as regional vice-president of the NFIA when Inder Singh was the national president and later on the board of trustees.

“Our last interaction was the encouragement I got from him to start a GOPIO chapter in Northern California which turned out to be the most active chapter with his constant guidance,” Zutshi said. “He would come and attend all the events I organized here.”

The last event where Zutshi invited Inder Singh as guest speaker was when the Indo-American Community Federation (IACF) was celebrating its unity dinner on March 22, 2013. The theme was A Tribute to Patriots and Gadar Heroes. That was the centenary year of the Gadar movement. A seminar on the Gadar heroes was held with Congressman Eric Swalwell as the guest of honor. Inder Singh was the keynote speaker. He was very passionate about the Gadar movement.

“A wonderful man, untiring in his quest for community development who was always an inspiration when we were young and a greater inspiration now when we have arrived at this later stage of life,” Zutshi said.