What I stand for

In 2009, I stood for the Lok Sabha, National Parliamentary election as an Independent Candidate for South Mumbai. Though I lost, I learnt a great deal about my city and the people at its heart. It was the beginning of a journey, and one that I knew, I would devote the rest of my life to.

At the time, my step was considered quixotic by many, who regarded it as tilting at the windmills of the powerful Indian political establishment. Yet, in the four years since then, I have been delighted to see a rising wave of other independent citizen candidates and newly formed political parties, start to contest local and state elections.

It is as if the floodgates have opened, and the common citizen, the Aam Janta have said “Enough”. The initial reluctance of our generation, to participate in a political process widely regarded as venal and corrupt, has given away to the realisation that Politics matters. We can no longer abdicate the space of Governing our nation to the lowest common denominator. We can and must participate constructively, not just in the political debate, but in the process itself.

In the past four years I have been asked repeatedly if I would stand again; from which constituency and what my campaign strategy would be. Friends and well wishers have been generous with advice and offers of support, that I greatly value.

But it was a simple question from a child that has dominated my thoughts over the past four years.  “Why are you standing” she asked, “and what do you stand for ?”

To answer this question, I started to undertake a series of exploratory journeys. The first into the issues that our country grapples with. The problems of education and health; of law and order and human rights; of poverty and corruption; of water, energy and food security…and of the best practices and policies that India could adopt, to address these challenges.

But it soon became evident that my ideas were shaped by my own background and perspectives – that of a banker who had grown up in urban India. In my years of banking I had learnt one thing – if you make the wrong assumptions, you make the wrong decisions – and such mistakes can be very expensive. There is no better way to understand the business and prospects of clients than to spend time with them in the field and understand the dynamics and drivers of their business.

Since India lives in her villages, it became clear to me, that this is where I would have to go. So in the summer of 2012, I embarked on a journey to the villages of India. During the course of the year I visited 15 states and spent time in over 120 villages. For the most part I traveled by public transport and lived in the homes, for a day and a night, with the women beneficiaries of my bank’s foundation.

Some of the stories of the journey have been shared with you through this blog and posts on Face book and twitter, and much of it still remains to be told. But the thread that ran through each and every step of this path, was that despite all the cynicism and sense of hopelessness that we experience when we watch TV or read the papers, the heart of India beats strongly.

The dignity and generosity with which I was welcomed into the homes, of women who had very little, will stay with me for ever.

In home after home, my hostesses refused to take any compensation for the hospitality they provided me. The true meaning of “Atithi Devo Bhava” came home to me when in one instance my gift of a saree was gracefully accepted and then in return I was presented her “shaadi ka joda”. Despite the  hard physical labour which they put in over long hours (women everywhere in our country rise at dawn and work till late at night), there was always time for the sharing of stories and for the gift of laughter. It became abundantly clear to me that the women of our country have very big hearts and very broad shoulders.

But it also became clear to me, that we are eroding this moral fibre of our people with the policy of hand-outs and give-aways that every political party is adopting for short-term electoral gains.

In Gram Sabhas, I was often asked aggressively by male villagers, as to what I had come to give them. The plethora of Government schemes driven by electoral promises, delivered inefficiently and with innumerable leakages, is creating a climate of entitlement. This is worsened by well-meaning NGO’s who see development through the lens of charity.

In other villages I was asked for help in accessing bank loans. Initially very pleased at this request, I was distressed to learn the reason bank loans were preferred to all other forms of credit was that “they never had to be repaid – as they were invariably written off before the next election.”

Flag ship schemes such as MGNREGS, which if well executed can transform districts (ref my blog on the Bankura experiment) are in general so poorly implemented that they are becoming major vehicles for corruption and theft. Villagers across the country confided how they had received money despite doing no work, but also shared that they did so in the knowledge that everyone up the chain had taken a much larger cut. “Is it not fair that we should get our share ?” was the simple question.

So we have embarked on a path, where policies that ostensibly aim to provide social justice and inclusion are becoming ruinous. From the recent experience of some countries in Europe, it is clear that such policies are not financially sustainable in the long run and result in the impoverishment of the finances of a nation. What is worse, is that through the collateral damage they create, they impoverish the soul of a nation.

We are converting a proud and dignified people into those who are dependant on hand-outs. This will destroy the future of our children.

The second major concern that I gathered on this journey, was the erosion of faith in our Institutions. The common man has begun to doubt the pillars that are the very foundation of this country – the police, the judiciary, the CBI, various constitutional bodies, and even the Armed Forces.

These are institutions that we look up to, to uphold our rights as free citizens – no matter what our social status or incomes, no matter what our gender, community, caste or religion. We can only be equal in the eyes of the law if there are institutions that defend and uphold our rights, not just in letter but in spirit.

But sadly, whether this is justified or not, the people of India have begun to feel that the integrity of these important institutions have been compromised. This will erode the faith of citizens in the state and the very basis of our democracy.

We are at a tipping point.

Ours is a nation of hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial people who are decent, God-fearing and honest. Our people have no need for charity, nor is it in their nature to cheat or defraud anyone. We are not a corrupt nation but sadly some of our leaders are. It is not the people of India who have let our country down, but regrettably much of our political leadership has.

It is time for all of us to take a position in defending what we believe to be right. And so, this is why I stand.

And this is what I stand for :

I stand for the soul of India.

I stand to uphold the integrity of our institutions.

And I stand for the dream of every mother who believes that the future of her child will be bright – based on his/her own hard work and because she/he had no more, but also no less, than a fair and equal opportunity.


28 thoughts on “What I stand for

  1. Your insights are profound Meera. Indeed, giving back dignity and bringing self reliance are key to building moral fibre, without which our Country has no hope of progressing. This is how the great countries of the West were built. Personally I however think that trying to do this as an individual, or as a member of a new / fringe party will have no impact, given the size of India. You should focus on first raising your own profile – and then working on joining the least worst of the main stream parties, and changing it from within. You will find like minded individuals, and this will be a more productive route to take. All the best in your journey Meera – no matter what route you choose.

  2. I could not agree more. It has indeed come straight from the heart and is a touchingly sensitive article , and by itself complete– bordering on idealism , which it should Be. But is it practical . Lakhs of educated young people who share the same sentiments need to fan all over the country -which in turn will create a soft revolution of sorts . But can they ? Will they ? Meera Sanyal can do this because she has a monetary backing and can indulge- which the average youth can ill afford to do because coupled with his social obligations towards the country , he has an obligation to himself and his family . Moreover it has been repeatedly seen in the political context individuals do not make a difference unless one is A Gandhi or similar . Indian voters invariably vote for parties and not for individuals . In my opinion Kejriwal at the most will dent into the % of voting but his party will not be able to garner more than 10-15 seats.In fact Baba Ramdev will cause more damage than anyone else. And herein lies the crux of the matter .Without a party the votes will not come , and unfortunately there is no party whose views are even remotely close to Meera Sanyal’s thoughts which if accepted can galvanize the nation like never before and give rise to true hope of positivity and well being in the future

      • Of course I would support your incredibly wonderful vision of future India. But to translate this vision one needs a credible party. And to have a credible party one needs a strong and committed cadre base across India, and more importantly a charismatic person who can capture the imagination of rural India. Anna started a movement which captured the Indian imagination , but somewhere floundered very badly. Having a vision is simply not enough- not nearly enough . Sachin Pilot has clarity of thought, is suave and we can relate with him- but can he lead the party ? No not even by a long shot. So where do we go from here. The structure is there on the drawing board the empty slots are there – but they require to be filled with people who have a ear to the ground, with whom rural India can relate to – and the answer to this makes for a multi million Rupee question !!!!!! :-))))

      • Ms. Sanyal,

        You have all my support : please let me know if there is anything that I can do to help you in your endeavor to get into the political arena.

        Be quixotic and tilt the windmills !

        Politics was defined

        Politics :

        “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

        I have a copy of the movie ” The Man of La Mancha ” which I would like to present to you to . Please let me know how I can get it to you. It inspires me and hopefully will help you in your tilting the political windmill.

        Best regards

        Dr. Sunil Anand MD

  3. If clean people like you enter politics, some people might no longer consider politics as dirty and might want to take the plunge themselves.

    India badly needs center-right(in the economic sphere) policies. In my humble opinion, most politicians don’t communicate effectively the benefits of free markets. Free markets to electorate now means that they have to pay more for petrol/diesel. But, they fail to communicate that free markets also mean that their son/daughter can start a small business with minimum hassle, and that there will be more jobs to be had when their children step out of college. So, focusing on benefits of a strong and liberal economy will be better than saying to the people that they will no longer get subsidies if they vote you. Once in power, a strengthened economy will balance the increase in essential commodities due to withdrawal of subsidies.

    P.S: A blog I had written on why one should join politics instead of starting an NGO: http://plainspeak.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/dont-start-an-ngo-start-a-go/

    • Thanks Rakesh. Indeed what our country needs are more entrepreneurs, who will create both more prosperity and more jobs. If like the slogan of “Each one Teach one” we could have a nation where ” each one builds a business and hires one”, India would have a thriving economy…

  4. If clean people like you enter politics, some people might no longer call politics dirty and might feel encouraged to enter politics themselves.

    India badly needs center-right(in the economic sphere) policies. But, the challenge is how to communicate to them the benefits of free markets and hazards of freebie culture in a language they understand. Best of luck.


  6. Dear Meera, thanks for the inspiring write-up. It almost makes me feel that I always thought on similar lines but never could articulate and put it in black n white so simply and wonderfully. There’s always a difference between watching the game from the side-lines and getting into the middle. Strongly believe you’ve taken a huge step in the right direction. And there will be many who’d inspired by this decision of yours. Count me in, always!

    • Dear Jayant
      Many thanks – the support and good wishes of friends like yourself who are actively working for the good of so many, means a great deal to me !
      Warm regards

  7. “I stand for the soul of India”. you summed up very nicely madam. Whatever small way, a tiny village of Dethali is with you. May Ma Saraswati bless you and you succeed in your mission.

  8. Its so inspiring to see great thoughts coming from you who have so much experience in dealing with all kinds of situations. You are a true inspiration and I really wanna be a part of your work and contribute my little to the society in whatever way I can.

  9. The analysis is deep and insightful. While I wish Meera ( and other well meaning individuals) does become part of the electoral process, and subsequently the Governance process, till such time small , but definitive, steps towards the cure are needed.
    1. First in meaningful education which not only breaks the aam aadmi from the corrupt influence of vote bank politics, but also provide him with a fresh perspective.
    2. Relentless Compaigns for cleansing the pillars of democracy from corruption and corrupt.
    3. Ensuring strict enforement of regulations. We do ot suffer from lack of laws, it is their administration which is the weak link.
    4. Continuous investment in infrastructure and other sectors which cascade development in the long run.

    While recent parties which have mushroomed as the messiah against all evils that plague us need to still be tested of their intentions and capabilities, one earnestly hope that they indeed are able to walk the talk. More importantly there is 100 % compulsory voting and 100% compulsory voter registration. This will be a game changer in participative electoral process.

  10. Thanks for giving up your corporate career for a social cause. Excellent article. I am based out of Edinburgh and feel that Swades moment, & the need to give back to society / my country. I admire your thoughts when you say ” Ours is a nation of hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial people who are decent, God-fearing and honest. Our people have no need for charity, nor is it in their nature to cheat or defraud anyone “.

    We need to empower people with new skills and ideas so that they become productive rather than providing them subsidies or entitlement.

    • You are right Raj. It is the old analogy of being taught to fish rather than being given fish…Every one of our women beneficiaries has demonstrated the willingness and ability to learn swiftly. All they need is a helping hand for a brief period – some seed capital, skills training, and access to markets and they are able to set up sustainable and thriving businesses in no time.

  11. Awe inspiring. Wish you all the success and may the Indian Politics have many more such wonderful people become our policy makers.

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