The Bridge Builder
at the time, especially the Prime Minister’s Office, that gave
me permission to go to Bhopal, although
I suffered the consequences of my Bhopal
trip physically and health wise.
But the feeling that I have been able to
make some difference in the lives of hundreds of people is what keeps this flame of
community service burning in me.
I have no regrets even though I still suffer from the after effects of the Bhopal gas
inhalation when I was there.
I feel that was one of the proudest
moments of my life that I was able to go
and help, not only the victims, but also
doctors who had no clue, no idea, about
the mental health aspects of that disaster
on the people.
I worked 17, 18 hours a day, working
with them, helping them and training
them on how to counsel those people who
lost their loved ones, who were feeling so
Many of them wanted to commit suicide, and how to prevent that.
We didn’t want more deaths.
Thousands had died and we didn’t want to have more
deaths among the people, who were living but were contemplating suicide.
I made some small contribution in that and to this day, it
warms my heart that at that time, I was able to be there for
Undeniably, this experience has left an indelible mark on
your entire being…
Absolutely. As a matter of fact, after I returned from that
first visit, I’ve been to Bhopal 20 times since.
I still follow up. Dr N R Bhandari, who was the superintendent of the Hamidia Hospital at the time, where all the
victims were being taken, is a close friend of mine.
Whenever I get the opportunity I still talk about the
Bhopal gas tragedy wherever I am.
Some of the children affected are still there — they are
mentally retarded —and some of them are now in the
Thakur Hari Prasad Institute.
Every time I go to Hyderabad, I keep an eye on them.
I have been able to keep up with what’s going on after the
deadly effects of the methyl isocyanate that the Union
Carbide plant created and was the worst man-made disaster
in human history.
You are a Republican and have been a Maryland delegate to
the National GOP conventions.
But you’ve always been there for Indian-American candidates, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, and you’ve
hosted receptions, fundraisers for the likes of Kumar Barve,
Aruna Miller and others — all Democrats — who adore and
What makes you be so bi-partisan?
Is it that all political aspirants from the community have to
One thing I strongly believe is that I am not a partisan animal, so to speak — a hard-core partisan animal. I do not
Below, Sambhu Banik with South Carolina
Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican. Left, Banik
with US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a
Democrat, at a fundraiser.
‘I believe in individuals... no matter whether the
person is Democrat, Republican, independent,’
I have no regrets in supporting
Democrats or other candidates as long as
I believe they can make a difference —
they can bring changes.
Sometimes, I may not support a
Republican candidate if I feel that person
is not as good as a Democratic candidate.
See, this is very important.
We are living in a free country and we
have a two-party system. So, we have to
elect people who will support our cause.
So, you feel it really doesn’t matter if he
or she is a Republican or a Democrat, as
long as the priorities and changes he or she wants to affect,
are aligned with the priorities and agenda and chances that
you see will make a difference in the lives of the constituents?
Exactly. I was appointed by both Republicans and
Democrats. I was appointed by (then Republican Governor,
Robert) Ehrlick as well as by (the current Democratic
Governor, Martin) O’Malley to the state’s Human Rights
I was appointed by Democrats to the Human Rights
Committee of Montgomery County. Also, to the Disabilities
Commissions. So, it really doesn’t matter.
If you are qualified and people have got good character,
integrity, it always pays off.
If I can be appointed by Democrats, although I am a
Republican, that shows that in the final analysis, it really
doesn’t matter whether a person is a Democrat or
Republican, as long as you are a good human being, and I try
to be a good human being.
Your wife Promila has always been at your side, including
for the scores of receptions, dinners, that you have organized
not only within the community but also in your own home for
innumerable people from politicians to diplomats and from
artists to just very good friends.
How much of a source of strength and support has she been
to you throughout all of these years?
Without Promila, perhaps I would have been gone a long
time ago. She is a source of strength, inspiration.
She’s my best friend. She has stood by my side no matter
whether I am sick, I am healthy, I am poor, or mediocre or
rich. This is what my wife is.
I am so proud that I met her in Canada and that changed
my life forever.
Without her, perhaps Sambhu Banik, wouldn’t be what he
I owe a great deal to Promila and my children, my two
beautiful daughters, Sharmila and Kakoli. ;
COURTES Y: SAMBHU BANIK
believe in that.
I believe in individuals. I feel that every human being has
the potential, no matter whether the person is Democrat,
So, especially since we (the Indian-American community)
are so small in numbers — our population is small — if we
can encourage some more Indian Americans to run for elected office, that is where the emphasis should be.
I hardly pay attention (to party lines), although I have been
reprimanded by the Republican Party a number of times for
supporting Democrats, but that is their problem, not mine.
I feel that as a human being, living in America, I have every
right under the Constitution to exercise my own position. So,
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