ABN-Ambro’s Meera Sanyal gives finance a break to contest the Lok Sabha elections and bring back to Mumbai what it has lost, she tells Priyanka Joshi
Like a million other Mumbaikars, Meera Sanyal too watched the horror of 26/11 unfold on her television screen — and although she was in New Delhi instead of her home in Malabar Hill in Mumbai, she was horrified. But unlike a million other Mumbaikars who went back to work after those horrifying few days, Sanyal could not shake off the feeling of being cheated.
The 47-year-old, who heads ABN-Amro Bank in India, was up against difficult choices: “Either I could sit back and blame the politicians and move on or I could pull up my sleeves and get on the ground to do something about it,” she says. She chose the latter. Sanyal is now in electoral fray as a candidate from south Mumbai for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. She is on a two-month break from the banking world of which she’s been a part for the last 25 years.
Up against another well-known public face, Congress incumbent Milind Deora, Sanyal has just four months to get ready to face the elections. A Herculean task? But she responds in the negative.
“Do you know Mumbai contributes 33 per cent of income tax collections, 60 per cent of customs duty collections, 20 per cent of central excise tax collections, 40 per cent of India’s foreign trade and a significant quantum to corporate taxes? For such a prosperous city, how can we be content with a withering transport system and lagging public amenities?” she questions. Like any good banker, she obviously keeps her numbers handy.
And she is a thorough professional too as she takes time off her busy schedule to do her political homework well, including a five-point strategy document that she quotes from confidently. Sanyal’s husband is her campaign manager and she has willing volunteers in the family, including her parents, her children and her brother, to help her out. But if you are wondering what can a just another “elite” professional deliver, there is food for thought: In 2008, Sanyal was awarded the Karmaveer Puraskaar, a national people’s award instituted by iCongo, a countrywide confederation of NGOs, for her work in social development.
So her family was not surprised when she chose to contest the elections. “My family has seen my involvement on several developmental issues in the past and it was almost as if they were expecting this step,” she says. Her children too, are actively involved in running their mother’s Facebook group and blog. Sanyal’s brother will be joining her soon to assist her with poll campaigning and her friends are bringing in more volunteers to support her candidature. “I have a great governance team back home, something that Mumbai lacks,” Sanyal quips.
A pukka Mumbaikar, Sanyal grew up in her constituency, studied at the Convent of Jesus & Mary and later at Cathedral, graduated from Sydenham college and then worked at Nariman Point. From shopping at Crawford Market for fruits to Sassoon Docks for fish and at Byculla for vegetables, Sanyal maintains that her life has been akin to anybody in Mumbai. “I too have had my share of jumping off from local trains and standing in serpentine lines for a bus. I have spent endless hours at Jahangir Gallery’s Samovar, and delighted in the monsoons on Marine Drive. I am the daughter of south Mumbai which is why I am standing from this constituency,” she says.
From being a banker to being an independent candidate in the hurly burly of electoral politics, wasn’t it scary to step out of the cocoon and stand up against a system that most of us are indifferent to? Sanyal takes her time, sips on a glass of water at Leopold Café, and replies: “It’s not so much fear that I feel than the enormity of the task that lies ahead. I am not here to simply try my luck and then go back to where I came from.” Sanyal says she would go back to her job in case she loses the elections but asserts, “I will go back with the feeling of having given a shot at improving Mumbai’s fast degenerating public amenities.”
And that’s not the end of the road for her. She promises to get more active on social agendas like city infrastructure and governance. Sanyal is not giving failure a place in her mind as she already has a blueprint of issues that she wants to support in the Parliament. “I will support issues and not parties or leaders. In the past, I have voted for the BJP, the UPA and the Congress when they have supported social issues that I believe in and this will continue.” Watch this space.