Congratulating Sushil Gupta for his nomination as RI President for 2020–21, Past RI President Kalyan Banerjee said at the Delhi event, “Today is certainly one of the happiest days of my Rotary life as we gather here to celebrate the rise to the top of one of my best friends — a friend yes, but one who has been more of a younger brother to me over the years as we started our work on polio eradication in India together, back in the 1980s, and have gone through our Rotary lives, sharing TRF Trusteeship also together.”
He disclosed that Gupta’s close friends in Rotary had “encouraged him to conquer Rotary’s Everest too, and he bided his time till the opportune moment came.”
Banerjee said the Nomination Committee for the President in Rotary is a unique committee. It has elected representatives, all past directors, from 17 of the 34 zones worldwide always, and “they are all seasoned, experienced Rotarians. And Gupta had a competitive field from both the Americas, North and South, and Europe as well.”
In a speech that was both passionate, entertaining and packed with punches, Banerjee said he had spent a “sleepless night on the day the Nominating Committee met in Evanston, Qatl ki Raat (night of reckoning) — as we called it. Sushil and I talked after his first interview with the committee and he said he had done ok ok. He didn’t rave about the interview.”
He may be a man of few words, but his work, especially in water resources, is unmatched in Rotary. He is one of the originators of the Rotary Action Groups and has been taking up India’s cases and causes again and again as TRF Trustee.
— PRIP Kalyan Banerjee
That was at 2 am IST; as the Nominating Committee interviewed others, we talked again at 3 am and 4 am. He was waiting to hear the final choice. At 4.45 am, we talked again — he said: Pata nahin kya ho raha hain (I don’t know what is happening) and then suddenly, he said, ‘Kalyan, wait a minute. Something is happening.’ My phone went dead for half a minute, till suddenly Shekhar Mehta, a member on the Nominating Committee, with our own Manoj Desai, came on the line and burst out saying Gupta had been nominated.”
When Gupta came on the line, and said: “Well Kalyan, we seem to have done it. And I said let me be the first person outside Evanston to congratulate you. I know it was a tough field with two ladies, each wanting to be the first woman RI President, one of them very popular, and a strong field from Europe too.”
A beaming Banerjee added that he then woke up his wife Binota to give her the good news. She too had spent an almost sleepless night, “but then who cares when your brother is chosen as RI President? She and I celebrated with an early cup of tea.”
He was certain that the fourth RI President from India would be a fine leader. “He may be a man of few words, but his work, especially in water resources, has been unmatched in Rotary. He is one of the originators of the Rotary Action Groups and has been taking up India’s cases and causes again and again as TRF Trustee. And as a host, his and Vinita’s hospitality is unparalleled as is his ever booming laughter.”
Banerjee disclosed that though he himself had authored the proposal for TRF to give global grants for CSR in India, a unique facility for India at present, Gupta was “the architect; without him, it would not have happened”.
Wishing Gupta and Vinita a great innings in 2020–21, he added, “Vinita is a very special human being and she will add so much to Sushil’s presidency as the first lady of Rotary.” He urged Gupta: “Itni shiddat se apna farz nibhao ki purdah girney ke baad bhi taliyan bajti rahen (Carry out your responsibilities with such intensity and solid hard work that the applause continues after the curtain comes down).”
Rajendra K Saboo
Congratulating Gupta for his nomination to RI’s top post, PRIP Rajendra Saboo recalled the day Banerjee had got nominated. “It was my 75th birthday and when he called me, I was awake. I did not keep awake even the night I got nominated. When Kalyan (Banerjee) called and confirmed it, I said this is the best gift for my 75th birthday.”
Just as athlete Hima Das had tears rolling down her face as she got the gold for 400 m (in the world junior athletics in July, 2018) when she saw the Indian tricolour going up at the award ceremony, so would every Indian’s heart swell with pride when they see our tiranga go up at the One Rotary Centre on July 1, 2020, he said.
Saboo disclosed that while all three RI Presidents from India hitherto had been born in Kolkata, Gupta too had a Bengal connection! “Vinita’s parents spent a substantial part in Bengal and absorbed so much of its culture that they had named Vinita as Binota!”
Having known Gupta for a long time he could vouch that a “person of his temperament and deep spirituality, one who has come up from the grassroots and is so committed to serve, will be the best man to take our organisation forward”.
Saboo disclosed that after Gupta’s address at Chennai, “which Usha found an outstanding speech”, where he had expressed thanks to PRIDs Manoharlal Manchanda and Sudarshan Agarwal, some people had wondered how “I felt about Sushil praising ‘Manchanda who was against you’. And I said: ‘So what? If you are my friend, forget about it. It is the past.’”
I urge you not to bask in all the praise that is being showered on you. The person sitting next to you, Vinita, is your biggest strength.
— PRIP Rajendra K Saboo
He recalled how a few years ago when he had suggested to Gupta that “we should forget the past, he stood up, embraced me and said: ‘Raja what you have said has been in my mind for all these years.’ That time we decided that we can’t erase history but we can certainly forget it. I realised then that this man has the strength of character and can truly be our leader.”
Saboo added that while he gave full marks to Gupta for “the way he took up the polio eradication task right from 1986–87, and the way he has worked in water conservation and Swachh Bharat through WinS, “I urge you not to bask in all the praise that is being showered on you. The person sitting next to you (Vinita) is your biggest strength. If we are bonding like this today it is Vinita who has really connected us. Vinita, the kind of love and affection you have showered on Usha and me, we can never forget.”
K R Ravindran
PRIP K R Ravindran said in a video message that Gupta’s nomination as RI President in 2020–21 was particularly important to him “as coincidentally I will be serving that year as the Chair of TRF and naturally I’d like to work with a president with whom I can establish a cordial working relationship, which is fundamental to the wellbeing of our organisation.”
Terming Gupta’s nomination as a “very good choice” he said having worked with him for two years on the TRF Board of Trustees, “Ï can vouch that his contribution as the chairman of the Finance Committee and a member of the Investment Committee was impressive, to say the least.”
Because of his hands-on experience in doing hundreds of projects, Gupta is in a better position as he knows the ground realities and the kind of problems communities face.
— PRIP K R Ravindran
Having walked the path himself, he said being RI President is a very demanding task. For more than two years “you will have to be away from home because the period of preparation is as strenuous as the presidency itself. For two years, during my presidency and the previous year, I stayed only 11 days at home. Your body is subjected to extremes of jet lag, because it is a leadership role on a global scale, and you have to keep in touch with the RI staff and the Foundation.”
But the huge advantage leaders from this part of the world have is that “most of us have had the opportunity to provide leadership in projects at the grassroots level. Sushil (Gupta), an expert in water conservation, has done hands on work in hundreds of projects,” And most admirably, he had executed these projects with 100 per cent focus on the local community. “Therein my friends, lies the lesson for every aspiring leader, because of his hands-on experience, Gupta is in a better position as he knows the ground realities and the kind of problems communities face.”
Another advantage was his commercial background and experience as a senior CEO of a large corporate entity with several best practices. Having worked with international organisations, he had the ability to integrate with different cultures, and look for new opportunities, Ravindran added.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat