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Manisha Gupta on why she quit Axis Bank for AAP

You wouldn't expect the executive vice-president of India's third largest private bank to just quit her job and join politics. But Manisha Lath Gupta, who joined Axis Bank in 2010 as senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, has done exactly that. Her reason? She wants to help clean up the system and be part of a political movement.

In an exclusive interview with FirstBiz, Gupta says she doesn’t want to leave behind a corrupt, unsafe environment for her kids. Joining AAP is a one-time opportunity for her to help change the way the country functions.

Manisha Lath Gupta/Photo: Sachin Gokhale/Firstbiz

Manisha Lath Gupta/Photo: Sachin Gokhale/Firstbiz

For me, I am actually a fan of the AAP effect more than anything else. We just need them to be around to be there
What if the AAP fails? “What would be a failure for me is if they just roll over over-night and die," she says.

So starting today, on a zero salary for the next one year, Gupta will reach out to corporates and high net worth individuals to raise funds for the party. The coming Saturday will see her first project: Organising a fund raiser for about 200 people for the AAP.

Read the entire interview below:

What forced you to get out of the corporate world and take this decision to join AAP?

MLG: I have been watching the AAP movement since the India Against Corruption days. There is, somewhere inside me, a huge sort of a nationalistic and patriotic person. Perhaps it goes back to my days at JNU, but, there has always been that person. So while I have been a fairly apolitical person for the past decade or so, (maybe, it was a mid-life crisis!), something struck me in the last year and I started getting really frustrated with the system and started feeling like we were all living in a make-believe world of our own, where we live in our nice air-conditioned houses, go in our nice air-conditioned cars to our nice air-conditioned offices and talk about a whole lot of stuff that impacts may be only 5–10 percent of the population and (we) feel like we are saving the world.

And, I felt like there is a whole world out there, a whole country out there which we are not even looking at. And my fear stems from the fact that if we keep ignoring the rest of the country, we are headed to a civil crisis - that is something that bothers me. Leave behind all sorts of wealth for our children, leave them a few houses, leave them a few cars, but if they cannot even walk out on the street safely, it’s worth nothing. And then when I started looking a little deeper into it, and started seeing the kind of politicians we have, the kind of leaders we have, there is nobody we can even look up to. And the people we see on TV, at debates, etc, most of them are Rajya Sabha members.

If you actually look at the Lok Sabha members, we have 20-30 out of the 540 odd who are nice to look at and they can speak well and they are well educated. But many of our parliamentarians actually have no education, are just children of relatives of existing politicians, and come with criminal records and are basically goons.

I don’t think running the bank is more important than (playing a part in) running the country. If anybody thinks that’s true then it is their mistake.

What is your precise role at AAP?

MLG: It is a bit unstructured; and I did spend quite a few days, evenings because I was still at work, meeting the team at the (AAP) office getting the sense of what I could do, what I could not do. What I have understood is this: there is a lot of downstream work that happens that is basically related to the elections. There is the membership drive, finding the candidates, getting the outreach programs done, door-to-door, etc and also getting polling booth agents, etc. There is a whole lot of work; I don’t think I have any capabilities at all, in managing any of that nor do I feel that I can even add any value to that side.

There is a little bit of the upstream work, which is related to either fundraising or reaching the electronic channels, building stronger interfaces in social media, payments or whatever it may be. And doing outreach with corporates who may not be a large votebank but, we are really counting on them to at least support us with funds. That is a good place where I could position myself because they would relate to somebody like me who has worked in the corporate world and then has made this move. And, I understand what their concerns are, what their issues are and what their world view is. So I will be working on fundraising with the more business, corporate people. I will be reaching out to them and asking them to give me access to their employees so I could actually address people and tell them about what we are trying to do at AAP and what is our game-plan. And also, then, through references, ask people do fund raisers for us. That is really the area where I am going to start off from. This is something that I know that I can do. And, I of course needed to know at least something that I can do concretely before I give up my job. But I will be going to my office now and get more into the thick of things and there might other things which I would do and I don’t know what they will be.

So at this moment you will not be involved in policy?

MLG: A lot of policy work is done out of Delhi and since I am not relocating, that is not something I will be able to contribute to. I am a very people’s person; I am not the kind of person, who will sit by myself and do research and craft and draft something; that is not where I get my energy from. I know I will be happier, meeting people, talking to people and convincing people about what we are trying to do rather than anything else.

Tell us, what is it that you will draw from your work, your experience, your education and bring to table at AAP?

MLG: My experience ranges from on-ground FMCG, distribution, rural markets, etc, which I got during my first 14 years in FMCG. That is definitely something that is going to help me. I have a good sense of what a retailer’s life is like. I have a good sense of what the lives are for people living in rural areas, what problems they face or what their issues are. I think a political party is like a service brand, it is very similar to a bank. In fact, somebody asked me the other day that - what do you think about their advertising (that is about the other political parties)? They actually think that advertising would swing votes? Just like in a bank you have to deliver, your service has to be delivered for you to get votes. Advertising only helps to build awareness.

I can imagine Aam Admi Party advertising because people don’t know about them. But I do find it strange that for Congress which has been in power for 10 years needs to advertise because everybody should know what they have done!
They should not be looking to get votes through advertising. Some of those parallels of being in the service industry are also coming in to play, like social media, electronic payments, channels, etc. There are a lot of things that I can draw upon.

But I am not looking at this as a place to make my career; I am not looking for a career in politics anyway. In my mind what I had decided was what I would take a year off, it’s an election year, it is the best time to do it. Five years later, I may be just too old and too tired to do anything like this. So what I had discussed with Shikha (Sharma) and other people, I need to do this for at least this year. Because something can change this year. And when I say something can change, I don’t mean that AAP can win a majority in parliament and form a government at the centre. Their power is in just being there. Their power is not so much in winning elections and running government. Their power is in just being there and when they are there, everybody else changes – people put up more honest candidatez, they will try to get a very transparent way of giving tickets, they will be watchful of how much money they spend on their constituency because somebody will point out that this is all black money and all unaccounted for. They will not distribute alcohol and cash the night before elections (which we saw did not happen in Delhi). I think that is the power and for me it is really a movement. It is not so much of a political power and that I have joined politics and something of that sort. I just feel that we have a great opportunity to clean the political system. AAP is a great conduit to do that and I feel I owe it to my kids today. For me this is coming purely from my role as a parent and as a citizen, it has nothing to do with my career, my professional aspirations.

What happens if this goes wrong? That is the possibility in politics.

MLG: But what do we mean by going wrong? We need to figure that out. Going wrong could be getting just 10-15 seats in parliament – that’s going wrong. But, I believe that is right, because there will be 20 people who will actually play the role of the opposition, which today nobody does. For me, expectations are fairly low. If somebody is challenging them – why are you putting 300 candidtates/400 candidates, how does it bother anybody? Every constituency where there is an AAP candidate, the political discourse will rise to a new level, people will watch what they are doing. So even if the candidate doesn’t win, for me, it’s still a victory. It doesn’t matter to me how many seats they win, how many they don’t. We need to have them around as a conscience keeper, as an auditor, as just somebody who is raising discussion to a new level.

Look at the incidents that happened even before the elections in New Delhi. Rahul Gandhi coming up and revoking the ordinance on criminals and politicians; why did he do that? They were going to issue an ordinance; it’s like a very extreme step. They wouldn’t have done it (revoked it) if there was no Aam Admi Party. Then we had the BJP coming in and fielding Harshvardhan rather than Vijay Goel, a much cleaner candidate. Why? Because there was Aam Admi Party, right? Then scrambling to pass Lokpal bill, something that they didn’t even give in to two years ago, now they are, like. “me first” like, who will do it? It wouldn’t have happened if there was no AAP. The new Chief Minister in Rajasthan cut down on the security by half, cut down the cavalcade by half, Nitish Kumar in Bihar sacked 500 corrupt officials – what is this? This is the AAP effect.

For me, I am actually a fan of AAP effect more than anything else. We just need them to be around to be there. So what would be a failure for me is if they just roll over over-night and die. If the party ceases to exist tomorrow- that for me is a failure. But anything else is not a failure; anything else is better than what we are today. What was our choice? People have been saying that “I thought they were really good but after the last couple of weeks I have lost faith”. It's like you are comparing a few street side antics – did they eat any money of yours? No. Did they rape anybody in your family? No. Did they bring anyone from their family and gave away seats like birthday presents? No. Then compared to that, this is nothing. For me it is nothing.

How do you see yourself coming back into the corporate world?

MLG: Maybe I would come back and work more on the CSR or any kind of social sector work. I am done with the conventional mercenary corporate life. I think that I have self-actualised, maybe, but I don’t find any inspiration there. But when I hear Arvind’s (Kejriwal) speech, I feel inspired. This is what we are going to do, we are going to change this country so our children can be proud of it. I am not going to send my kids to the US to study. They are not going to relocate there, I am not going there. I have to live here and die here, my kids are going to live here and die here. I have to make this place better. And we cannot be living in our nice little bubble, leading a Truman Show kind of a life where nothing bothers us and we continue. It’s impractical.

This story first appeared on Sunainaa Chadha also contributed to this story

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2014 15:38 PM

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