Mota Singh obituary

Other lives: Labour councillor and mayor in Warwickshire, and anti-racism campaigner

My friend Mota Singh, who has died aged 81, was the first British-Asian county councillor in Warwickshire, and the first to chair the council, in 2000. He was a dedicated anti-racism campaigner. He served as the mayor of Leamington Spa in 2004.

Mota was elected to Warwickshire county council for Labour in 1985 and continued to represent Brunswick ward until 2009. In 2002, he was elected to Leamington town council and served until 2019. People from all communities in Leamington valued Mota as their representative. Canvassing with him brought hugs and handshakes from all. He was a gentle, kind and compassionate man.

Mota was born in Rajasthan, India, to Bhagat Singh, a farmer, and his wife, Kishan Kaur, who died when Mota was a young child. He arrived in the UK in 1963 and settled in Leamington Spa. His first job, working for a metal plating company, ended abruptly when he sought to unionise the workforce. Following support from the Transport and General Workers’ Union, he started work at Ford’s foundry.

He was among those who raised money to buy and convert a former Sunday school to create Leamington’s first gurdwara, which opened in 1967.

Mota was an anti-racist campaigner all his life. In 1976, he spearheaded protests against Robert Relf, who had advertised his house in Leamington for sale only to a white purchaser. Following an uproar, Relf was found to have breached the Race Relations Act and was jailed when he refused to take down his advert. The legacy of the protests was the creation of the Leamington anti-racist and anti-fascist committee, set up in 1977. Mota was a leading member.

After a spell in hospital with bronchitis, in 1974 he left the foundry and became a postman, and was active in the Union of Communication Workers. He retired from the Royal Mail in 2002, after 28 years’ service.

One of Mota’s personal missions was to offer one-to-one support to people arriving in the UK from India, helping them with advice and translations. He continued with this into his retirement. Mota wrote poetry all his life and an anthology, Bikhre Moti (Scattered Pearls), was published in 2008. He was also a keen gardener.

Mota married Surinder Kaur in 1968 and they had three sons. She died in 2003. Their son Gurpreet (Gilly) died in 2007. Mota is survived by Janet Alty, his partner of 15 years, and by his sons Jasjit and Jaskarn.

Andy Marshall

The GuardianTramp

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