Money & Banking

Meera Sanyal: Banker and politician who slayed economic arguments with grace

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on January 13, 2019 Published on January 13, 2019

The one thing that struck you about former-banker-turned-politican Meera Sanyal was her calm confidence. The 57-year-old Sanyal’s sudden passing on Friday has left many who followed her innings as a politician, both shocked and saddened.

Sanyal wore her highly-recognisable dual roles rather lightly, disarming audiences with her unflappable ability to pay a compliment to another and take a joke on herself. “I like your sandals,” she told this correspondent during their first meeting at Mumbai’s populous “VT” (Victoria Terminus) or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, striking a note of ease, even as she stayed the course with the interaction.

Her passing from cancer comes even as reports appear with alarming frequency of politicians and film personalities dealing with the illness, including Manohar Parrikar, Nafisa Ali, Sonali Bendre and, most recently, Rakesh Roshan. Though Sanyal had been visible on television and active on social media till very recently.

In fact, her pleasant demeanour seems to be a common public recollection, as she made her political and economic observations on television in a calm but firm manner. There was none of the screeching that televised debates are wont to do. Just clear-headed arguments that sliced through the noise.

In 2009 when Sanyal gave up her banker-life to join the hustle and bustle of politics as an independent candidate in South Mumbai, no one expected her to last out, she told BusinessLine in another interaction before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Critics who had labelled her as ‘Malabar Hill ki memsaab’, were subsequently shocked to see her take padyatras around the constituency, she said, amused but determined to prove them wrong.

Sanyal’s second political outing was under the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) umbrella. And contrary to what many thought, AAP was not “anti-business”, she said, just against dishonest businesses that indulged in crony capitalism. In fact, she added, it was the honest businessman who suffers because of corruption, multiple taxes and poor regulation.

Last November, Sanyal’s book on demonetisation “The Big Reverse: How Demonetization Knocked India Out" was released and she acknowledged reviews of the book on social media. She had called demonetisation an “unmitigated disaster”.

Her observations articulated four years ago to this correspondent on the credibility crisis facing banks and politicians, rings truer today than ever. “Banks are critical to economies... It’s the same thing with politics. It’s just that we need to re-calibrate just like banks have to regain trust, politicians have to regain the credibility of their constituency,” she had said.

Sanyal plunged into politics after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. “I was leading a bank with a BPO of 2,500 people in Mumbai and through the floods, bomb blasts, we never lost a day’s work, not one day. Through the floods 400 people slept in the office because they knew someone around the world is dependent on them, that’s the spirit of Mumbai.”

Pointing out that AAP had made politics more democratic in that ordinary people too could join in, she said, “When I stood for elections before, if you were charitable you would say she’s idealistic, if you were practical, you would say she’s an idiot, nobody does this. In five years, the rules of the game have changed.”

This time around, though, she will not be part of the general election. Her last tweet on December 31 gave little indication of it, though. “On an SM (social media) detox diet, wishing you a wonderful 2019 and looking forward to seeing you again in due course,” she had said.

Published on January 13, 2019
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