Banker-turned-politician Meera Sanyal loses battle with cancer

In 2009, Sanyal contested the Lok Sabha polls from Mumbai South while on a sabbatical from RBS.

Meera Sanyal, regarded as one of the most respected voices in the banking sector in India who later turned to politics and civic activism, died around 8 pm on Friday, in Mumbai. She twice contested the Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat unsuccessfully: in 2009 as an Independent while on a sabbatical from banking, and then in 2014 as an AAP candidate.

Sanyal (57), a former chief executive officer and the chairperson of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in India, had been battling cancer for over two years now. She passed away at her Mumbai residence.

AAP's Preeti Sharma Menon broke the news of her demise. "It is with profound sadness that I share the heartbreaking news that my colleague, my leader, Meera Sanyal is no more. I've never met a more graceful, dignified person and share the deep pain that her family must be going through right now."

"Extremely sad to hear this. No words to express…," AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal tweeted.

Having graduated from INSEAD, France and Harvard Business School in the US, Sanyal had a successful and celebrated banking career spanning three decades. She also led the RBS Foundation's charitable and social initiatives. Her father, Vice Admiral Gulab Mohanlal Hiranandani, was a highly decorated Naval officer.

In 2009, she contested the Lok Sabha polls from Mumbai South while on a sabbatical from RBS. She subsequently returned to RBS , resigning in 2013 to enter the hurly-burly of public service to stand as the AAP candidate from Mumbai South again. She lost on both occasions, but captured the hearts of many with her commitment towards economic, social, and political empowerment of Indian women and her call for an alternative to the established political parties.

She entered the electoral fray around the time when civic activism in Mumbai was peaking. "She showed the way for clean politics when she entered the contest as an independent in 2004. Mumbai has lost one of her greatest daughters. I have lost a mentor," said Ruben Mascarenhas, national joint secretary of AAP.

In 2009, she had to fight off intense pressure to withdraw after then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commented on multiple Independent candidates being spoilers in electoral contests. Sanyal had then spoken out on behalf of Independent candidates, reiterating her right as an Indian to participate in the democratic process. She had said she had chosen to contest as she felt established parties had not been able to solve the country's and Mumbai's problems.

Her Congress opponent in the 2009 and 2014 elections, Milind Deora, said he is in Dubai and had heard of her passing away. "I wish to convey my condolences to her family," he added.

Not daunted by her electoral setbacks, Sanyal remained committed toward public service. She was a member of AAP's national executive committee, and the party's leading voice on women empowerment and economic issues. She also served as a non-executive director on board of Pradan, an NGO that works towards women empowerment through entrepreneurship. She was on the international board of global organisation, Right to Play and served on various national committees at Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

She also championed the cause of reclaiming Mumbai's port lands for innovative public use, and campaigned against particulate matter pollution caused by huge coal stocks at the Kolse Bunder in Sewri.

Sanyal also wrote a book on demonetisation, released on the 2018 anniversary of note ban, November 8. It was titled The Big Reverse: How Demonetisation Knocked India Out.