When India-born, New York-based millionaire philanthropist Meera Gandhi welcomed New York Senator Hillary Clinton into her 8,850 square-foot townhouse that once belonged to another former FLOTUS, Eleanor Roosevelt, chatter had long begun about Ms. Clinton’s POTUS ambition. That was 2004.
Cut to 2016. Hillary is in her second (some may say fourth!) race to the White House and at the centre of one of the most sensational and acrimonious US Presidential bids there ever has been (and to think the primaries have yet to begin). And Meera finds herself in the thick of the action as part of Hillary’s National Finance Committee --“Hillblazers”-- raising funds for Clinton’s primary election race.
So how did a rendezvous at a soiree turn into a seemingly close friendship and land a charming, Indian immigrant socialite such an important position deep inside a US Presidential-hopeful’s campaign?
Hillary is smart. But even smarter are her trusted aides who quickly realised that their hostess was not just another socialite. The ease with which Meera could put together and hold sway over a roomful of ultra-rich people was just one of the things that caught their eye. Her accessibility to HNIs, thanks to her husband (now ex) Vikram Gandhi’s then high-profile job at Morgan Stanley (co-head, global financial institutions group), was another. It also helped that by then Meera had established herself among New York’s powerful high society circuit as a resourceful fund raiser for numerous charities through her own NGO, The Giving Back Foundation.
And Meera’s degree in Economics from the Delhi University and her MBA from the Graduate School of Management at Boston University also kinda made it all rather serendipitous. For Meera to be included in the inner coterie of a very important New York senator, a former First Lady no less and a woman who the chatterati had already then prophesised to be America’s first woman President, was too good a chance to miss.
The first meeting
It was in 2004 that the charity ERVK (Eleanor Roosevelt Centre at Val-Kill) called Meera and asked her if she would host a fundraiser at her historical tony townhouse for their Girls’ Leadership Worldwide program, where Hillary Clinton would be guest of honour.
“I immediately said yes,” says Meera, who we met during her recent Mumbai trip where she was a speaker at the second annual Harvard US-India Conference. “We really hit it off,” she recalls. Meera also hit it off with Huma Abedin and Hillary’s other main aide Dennis Cheng, her campaign’s finance director. Meera had actually met Hillary before – at a breakfast get-together organised by New York hotelier and Clinton supporter Sant Chatwal. And while Hillary and her managers did curry (no pun intended) financial favour with Chatwal, it was Meera who was asked to get involved in the campaign. Not one to waste time, Meera went on to support Hillary’s work in the Clinton Initiative as well and host some crucial preliminary meetings for Hillary’s campaign at her (Meera’s) London home in 2010.
A revived connection
It was at a meeting at Beyonce and Jay-Z’s nightclub in Manhattan in April 2015 that Meera was inducted into the core committee of ‘Hillblazers’. What may sound as the effects of drinking the Hillary kool-aid, especially to sceptics and critics of the former Secretary of State, Meera’s belief in Hillary seems to run deeper than just her hope that the latter will win the election. “She doesn’t care what people say about her. For Hillary, it’s always about the mission; the mission to make the country a better place. She feels she is the person to do it. She never lets it get personal. And I have seen myself and others learn a lot from that,” says Meera.
Meera, who counts another former first lady, Cherie Blair, among her close friends adds, “One of Hillary Clinton’s main mandates is that the minimum wage will go up to 15 dollars. She is going to bring the middle class up.” Declares the Hillary loyalist, “Look, the campaign she is running is a multicultural, multidimensional, multiage one. We’re all Americans and this multiculturalism is reflective of what America truly is. Donald Trump’s rhetoric of alienating the Latins and Mexicans is bad.
If you are going to run a country and manage the sensibilities of 250 million people that live within the USA, and around the world --6 billion people -- you have got to have a very clear head on your shoulders. Hillary has that. I predict, sitting here in Mumbai, that come the 58th Quadrennial US presidential elections on 8 November, 2016, Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States of America.”
Before she heads to the Iowa caucus, where she will talk to people about the merits of Hillary Clinton, as a final parting shot, Meera says, “And I will definitely host a fund-raiser for her in my townhouse soon.” But life will truly come a full circle for the two headstrong women, one, Chicago-born, the other, Delhi, who pledged to support each other more than 10 years ago in that very same historical townhouse of a former FLOTUS, on 8 November, 2016.
That is if Hillary and her aides manage to win the primaries. We hope we are invited for that soire.