The issue with Indian politics is that there’s no shortage of professional colleges but there’re too few professionals in politics. The reason for that is, over the last several decades, Indian politics has come to be associated with criminals, corruption, communalism, crony capitalism and casteism. It’s come to be regarded as a dirty business from which people who have ideals, intellect and integrity stay away.
In 2008, after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, I felt the time had come to stop criticising and analysing the situation; instead, I needed to participate constructively. At the time, a few people regarded this as an idealistic step but most thought it was completely crazy. I am really happy that by 2014, many hundreds of professionals from all walks of life joined the movement to participate directly in Indian politics. From the Aam Aadmi Party, we had 400 excellent candidates with experience as teachers, lawyers, doctors, diplomats, social activists, bankers etc. But equally, there were eminent examples from other parties, like Shashi Tharoor and Nandan Nilekani in the Congress, Jayant Sinha and Smriti Irani in the BJP, Jayaprakash Narayan of Lok Satta to name a few.
This professionalisation of Indian politics is a healthy trend for it transfers many good practices into politics. Just as leadership and teamwork are important in professional life, they are critical in politics too. Human resource practices are as essential, to attract talented people to political parties, and also to keep them motivated.
In politics, the importance of communication and building good media relations is perhaps even more important than in any other profession. And, of course, the importance of finance, transparency and accountability in politics cannot be over-emphasised. Professionals who enter politics can bring all the good management practices and a wealth of experience into the political arena. Equally, they can become a bridge between politics and society at large.
I have fought two elections and both have been great learning experiences. In my 2014 campaign, I had committed to certain actions irrespective of whether I won or lost. And though I wish I had won the election, I find that I have a very full day as I have started work on these commitments. The first set of actions relates to the Mumbai Port land. These are approximately 717 acres in the heart of south Mumbai which was supposed to be returned to the city for public use in the form of schools, hospitals, port facilities, playground and open spaces once the new port at Nhava Sheva came up. Regrettably, this never happened. Instead, this land has become a dumping ground for things like coal, and is used for ship-breaking and other environmentally hazardous activities. With other concerned citizens, I am working to win back the land for Mumbai.
Another commitment is towards empowering women. As a banker, I had mentored our bank’s microfinance programme, which had financed over 6.5 lakh women across India. During my campaign, I discovered thousands of women entrepreneurs running tiny solo enterprises out of a little corner of their homes. We now plan to start a social enterprise to mentor and provide incubation facilities to such entrepreneurs. This is just to illustrate that there can be a rich sharing of knowledge and experience when professionals enter politics.
(Meera Sanyal is a former banker)