GLOWING tributes have been paid to Manubhai Madhvani, one of Britain’s most eminent Asian entrepreneurs, who died on Tuesday (May 17) after a short illness. He was 81.Often referred to as the Rockefellers of Uganda, the Madhvani family business empire spanned East Africa, the Middle East and India where their interests ranged from sugar, soap, breweries and glass to tea and tourism.At the height of their power and influence, the Madhvani group accounted for over 13 per cent of Uganda’s GDP, before the Asian exodus from that country in 1972.Manubhai headed the business empire founded by his father Mujlibhai. He was a hugely respected figure, not only in the business world, but also in the wider community where he strived to promote religious harmony and tolerance.His Holiness Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji of Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh, India, led the tributes to Manubhai. He said: “No matter how high he rose in the business world, Manubhai’s roots remained deep in his culture and his community. His generosity, selflessness and compassion knew no bounds, and he gave and gave, truly like Mother Ganga, with no hesitation, no discrimination, no expectation and no vacation.”Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, said: “Manubhai Madhvani was a giant. He was one of the founder members of the Asian community in Britain. He was a hugely successful businessman who loved this country and was also devoted to Africa and India. Above all, he was gentle and kind. He will be greatly missed.”Conservative MP and government whip Shailesh Vara said Manubhai’s loss would be felt by many throughout the world. “He was an extraordinary man who touched the lives of so many people in a variety of ways,” he said.Born in Africa in 1930, Manubhai studied at the Hansraj Morarji Public School in Bombay. He took charge of the family business empire following the sudden death of his elder brother Jayantbhai Madhvani in 1971 and steered the group through difficult times when the Madhvani family was expelled from Uganda in 1972. During the years of exile, he presided over the partial separation of the family’s business interests. But he joined with his brothers in later years to rebuild the industrial conglomerate that today spans many continents and business sectors. Throughout the many challenges he faced, Manubhai found solace in his abiding faith in God. His spiritual awakening came after he was imprisoned in 1972 by Idi Amin in the infamous Makindye Military Prison .Manubhai once said, “the common man needs to see unity and virtue among religious leaders inste-ad of the scandal of disunity and self-promotion”.In 1994, his family hosted Samabhav – the Festival of Religious Unity in London where leaders from all the major religions preached together for 10 days. The pioneering festival attracted thousands of devotees from across the world.A deeply religious and humble man, Manubhai was as much at ease meeting prime ministers and heads of state as he was with ordinary people. His brother-in-law, Sir Jayanti Chande, a former chairman of Barclays Bank in Tanzania, said Britain and Uganda had lost a renowned industrialist.“He was a very visionary and a very astute businessman who made a huge contribution to Uganda, Britain and to his family.” Manubhai is survived by his wife Shardaben, sons Kamlesh and Shrai and four grandchildren.
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