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Punjab has regressed, needs new ideas: Lord Diljit Rana

Rana, a member of the House of Lords in Ireland, is a past master at juggling business with philanthropy.

punjab Updated: Nov 30, 2017 18:06 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Lord Diljit Rana,Lord Meghnad Desai,Manpreet Badal
Lord Diljit Rana talking to Hindustan Times in Chandigarh on Wednesday.(Sikander Singh/HT)

Lord Diljit Rana is pleased with himself these days. He has every reason to be, for his football team from Sanghol, his mother’s native village, entered the semi-finals of the Administrator’s Cup within a year of its conception.

Rana, a member of the House of Lords in Ireland, is a past master at juggling business with philanthropy. A hotelier and real estate magnate in Belfast for 51 years, this 77-year-old says he comes to Punjab “only to give back.” Rana, who set up a college in Sanghol village in 2005, is now organising a seminar on “India in 2030: Geopolitical and Economic Perspectives” at Sanghol from December 2 to 3.

The speakers include Lord Meghnad Desai from the UK and Prof Tom Fraser, pro-vice chancellor of Ulster University in Ireland besides Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal.

‘FARMER UNABLE TO BREAK EVEN’

A self-made man, Rana likes to make a difference. Punjab, he thinks, needs an infusion of fresh ideas so that it can climb back on the road to development. “Punjab has gone backwards. In the 1970s, it was the most prosperous and forward-looking state but since the 1980s, it is stuck in the phase of Green Revolution while the rest of the world has moved on,” he says. “In 10 years, most vehicles in western cities will be driver less, while Punjab is yet to take the industrial route,” he adds.

The Punjab farmer, he rues, is unable to break even. “We need state-of-the-art storage and food processing besides new crops,” he says, lamenting that no government had tried to nudge the state forward. “The leaders are more worried about their political careers and succession.”

It was with a view to give the under-privileged education and livelihood that Rana set up the Cordia college at Sanghol with 18 streams as diverse as science, accountancy and business management. Last November, he gave Sanghol a football academy in alliance with Southall Football Club. This July, he enrolled Tommy Taylor, a veteran footballer of England, to train the trainers at Sanghol.

Today, Cordia College boasts over 3,000 students, who include 100 from the Kashmir Valley.

MAKING PEACE IN BELFAST

That is Rana’s way of doing his bit to tackle conflict in the Valley. This tycoon did just that when Ireland was in the midst of civil war in the 1980s. “I would quietly invite leaders from both sides of the fence for dinner at my home. After a drink of two, people who would have never exchanged a word with each other would end up talking about their issues,” he recounts, calling himself a mere facilitator. Later, these dinner dialogues were called the first civil path to peace in Ireland, and Rana was made a member of the Upper House in recognition of his services.

Rana, you can tell, is fond of Ireland. “I’ve seen the good, the bad and the worst of it,” he laughs. It was in 1966 that he first visited Belfast and fell in love with its people. “I went to England in 1963 but I couldn’t stomach the racial bias. Belfast was different,” he recalls. He found the Irish warm and friendly with an open-door hospitality that reminded him of Punjab. “Like Punjabis, they are fond of drinking. And like Punjabis, they fight first and find a reason later,” he says.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Rana suffered severe losses during the ‘Troubles’ as the Irish call the civil war. “For the Irish Republican Army (IRA), any economic target was legit, so they bombed my restaurants and businesses.”

But that’s all in the past. Ireland, says Rana, is booming now. He wishes Punjab too could follow suit.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 18:06 IST