By: Express News Service
New Delhi, March 30: 2022 was bookended by-elections to two states which have defined Indian politics for 30 years: Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The BJP retained both, comprehensively, as the juggernaut of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah showed no sign of tiring or retiring from their top perch on the power list.
But, for once, this juggernaut contended for some space with a march. Having finally paved the way for a non-family Congress president, Rahul Gandhi hit the road from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, walking 4,000-plus km over five months, seeking “Bharat Jodo”, and fighting the image of being a “non-serious entitled politician”. The initial yatra energy evaporated by poll losses in the Northeast and a deep slide in Gujarat but his disqualification from the House and his stomach for a fight takes him from No. 51 to 15.
Along with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar, Rahul is the only non-ruling establishment name in the top 15 (barring Mukesh Ambani, that is). The fact that both outrank Gandhi is a reflection of the flux in the shrinking and challenged Opposition space, with regional parties refusing to cede primacy to the Congress.
The Punjab win means Arvind Kejriwal remains in contention, but with corruption charges clouding his moral high ground and his No. 2 in custody, he is down seven ranks.
Within the top ranks composed interchangeably of government and Sangh Parivar bosses, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has surged to No. 3, ahead of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and BJP president JP Nadda. With G20 presidency and India’s foreign ties central to the Modi government’s 2024 campaign, Jaishankar is the muscular brain that fits the BJP bill just right.
The other BJP face with a sharp rise is Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, who zooms from No. 32 to 17, riding on both shrill Hindutva and skilled electioneering, powering the party in the Northeast. Union minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, an unknown till Modi picked him in 2021, has settled comfortably into his prominent portfolios, thus climbing 30 places to No. 19.
Most new entrants are either players in the coming election-packed year, or those, like Mallikarjun Kharge and Eknath Shinde to Delhi L-G Vinai Kumar Saxena, who have seen a change in fortunes. On the other side of this spectrum is Gautam Adani, left poorer by several million dollars and 26 ranks, to No. 33, by a report from a little-known short-selling firm.
Bollywood, the much-vaunted soft power, much-maligned for being too soft, comes in only at No. 50. Not surprisingly, it is in the form of Shah Rukh Khan, the Pathaan who did not crawl. The 57-year-old superstar is right back at the top, a year after his son’s arrest on drug charges that fell in court, having given the Indian film industry one of its biggest hits. That would be Rs 1,046 crore, and climbing. Yet, politics remains the grist to the power mill — especially as the countdown begins to Elections 2024.
10) Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor
Rank last year: 8
On matters of security and diplomacy, Ajit Doval remains the key figure in the government whose judgement is relied upon by PM Narendra Modi. He is also consulted on all key appointments in the security establishment and is said to be the go-to person for the government on its Kashmir strategy. He continues to influence government policy on Pakistan and China and has had a key role in formulating India’s position vis-a-vis the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
His recent visit to Russia, where he held a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, was one of the rare occasions when foreign officials were granted a meeting with the embattled President. It has been seen as Doval’s unique position as a valuable interlocutor in the Indian government and an acknowledgement of his vast experience in regional security issues, especially in matters related to Afghanistan.
With China continuing to flex its muscle on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and no progress in military-level talks on friction points at Depsang Plains and Charding Nala in eastern Ladakh, Doval’s role in defusing the situation and ensuring an eventual de-escalation at the border will remain crucial.
By the way
He enjoys cooking a good meal for friends.
9) Mukesh Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries Ltd
Rank last year: 5
The richest Indian, according to Forbes and Bloomberg, Mukesh Ambani has continued to acquire and form joint ventures to strengthen his position in various areas, including textile, renewable energy, drone technology and toy manufacturing. He also collaborated with Meta to launch JioMart on WhatsApp. Recently, Ambani picked up a 50 per cent stake in the 100-year-old beverage maker Sosyo Hajoori Beverages.
Ambani has started rolling out 5G services in major cities. So far, he has launched 5G services in over 250 cities across the county. He plans to complete 5G deployment in 2023.
Ambani has announced he will demerge his financial services arm — Jio Financial Services (JFS) — and list it on stock exchanges. JFS plans to launch a consumer- and merchant-lending business. He is also constructing the Dhirubhai Ambani Green Energy Giga Complex over 5,000 acres in Jamnagar, which will be the world’s largest integrated renewable energy manufacturing facility.
He is a teetotaller and sticks to a strict vegetarian diet. Ambani enjoys eating out, be it at roadside joints or at the best of restaurants.
8) Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs
Rank last year: 10
Emerging from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nirmala Sitharaman led the charge to announce relief measures for the economy along with renewing the focus on growth through higher productive capital spending. She has been at the forefront in asking the industry to step up private investments in a bid to boost growth.
As the country’s first full-time woman finance minister, she has presented five consecutive Budgets so far. Part of the core team of the Narendra Modi-led government, she resisted pressure from a section within her own ministry to be fiscally liberal. That has held her in good stead and helped prepare for the marathon. In the Budget for next year, her focus on fiscal prudence continues with no splurging of funds in populist schemes. Her big idea was to raise the tax threshold to Rs 7 lakh a year from Rs 5 lakh a year, which means a lot to those joining the workforce or the just retired.
With global slowdown and rising interest rate cycle, the impact on India’s growth, especially amid subdued exports and demand, is going to be keenly watched.
By the way
She likes listening to Hindustani and Carnatic classical music.
7) JP Nadda, National President, Bharatiya Janata Party
Rank last year: 4
Despite the BJP’s electoral loss in his home state, Himachal Pradesh, JP Nadda escaped almost unscathed as the BJP gave him an extension until June 2024 as national president. While his “Sewa Hi Sangathan” programme, launched during the pandemic, gave the BJP a humane face, his “Know BJP” initiative — interaction with mission heads and diplomats — is helping the party allay apprehensions about its ideologies and policies among the international community.
In June, after the BJP formed an alliance with Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena, its Maharashtra stalwart and former chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, had announced that he would not be part of the government. Within minutes, Nadda announced on television that the party’s central leadership had decided that Fadnavis would be deputy chief minister.
With the BJP preparing for fierce electoral battles in key states, Nadda has to ensure that the party wins most of them as those elections would be considered the semi-finals to the Lok Sabha polls. Nadda has already announced that the BJP must win all nine states that go to the polls this year.
By the way
He enjoys watching old parliamentary proceedings.
6) Mohan Bhagwat, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Chief
Rank last year: 3
his may be the strongest BJP government with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s imprint all over but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh continues to wield significant moral and ideological weight. In a pre-election year, its formidable network will be called upon to mobilise support and help deliver the party a third term in 2024.
There’s no need to look for a shivling in every mosque and the RSS isn’t in favour of launching any more movements on the issue, Bhagwat said in his first remarks on the Gyanvapi row, sending a clear signal on the stand the Sangh would adopt. His comment that there can be no Hindu rashtra without Muslims and his minority outreach efforts will be keenly watched.
After a successful campaign against triple talaq and love jihad, which led to laws being framed at the Centre and in BJP-ruled states, the Sangh has embarked on a journey to implement Uniform Civil Code. It has led to at least two states forming committees for the same. Bhagwat has also been attempting to change the RSS’s image of being anti-minority.
By the way
Not only does he enjoy listening to music, he also sings well.
5) Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
Rank last year: 6
Adityanath Most Powerful Indians 2023 Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)
The first UP CM to return to power after a full term, Yogi Adityanath has blended politics, ideology and governance to shape his tough CM image. His controversial use of bulldozers has become a symbol of a muscular state. Under him, the BJP came back to power, winning 255 seats and a higher vote share. Since then, the BJP has entered new frontiers, winning from the Samajwadi Party strongholds of Azamgarh and Rampur in Lok Sabha bypolls. From Gujarat to West Bengal, Adityanath is now one of the BJP’s most sought-after campaigners.
“Iss mafia ko mitti mein mila denge,” Adityanath said in the UP Assembly, while accusing the SP of sheltering “criminals” and “mafia.” This was a day after Umesh Pal, a key witness in the 2005 case of the murder of BSP MLA Raju Pal, was shot dead in Prayagraj. Days after the CM’s statement, two of the accused in the Umesh Pal murder case were shot dead in encounters.
His challenge will be to consolidate the BJP’s grip on UP and deliver ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. His growing stature in the BJP is being closely watched both in the party and outside.
By the way
Yoga and walking are part of his fitness regimen.
4) DY Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India
Rank last year: 19
D Y Chandrachud, who has a tenure of over two years as the top judge of the Supreme Court, took over as Chief Justice of India at a time of especially fraught relations between the executive and the judiciary. His verdicts over the years, including overruling the Emergency-era verdict of his father, former CJI YV Chandrachud, in the Habeas Corpus case, have marked him out as his own person. His tenure till November next year— and the verdicts the apex court delivers in big cases — will be keenly watched as it coincides with the general elections in 2024.
The Supreme Court collegium headed by him has so far packed a punch — by making public the government’s reasons for rejecting a candidate to emphatically reiterating some recommendations that were rejected on the basis of sexual orientation and ‘adverse’ comments against the government. Amidst criticism of the judiciary from the government, including the Law Minister and the Vice President, he has weighed in with clear and firm statements.
With 10 more appointments to the top court in his tenure and an increasingly testy Executive, he will have to navigate tough terrain, especially in an election year. How he pulls it off will shape the institution and public faith in it.
By the way
He is a yoga enthusiast and nature lover.
3) S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs
Rank last year: 15
Jaishankar Top 10 Most powerful Indians External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (PTI Photo)
In a year of global turmoil, amid the Russia-Ukraine war, S Jaishankar emerged as the most articulate advocate of India’s diplomatic tightrope walk on the global stage. His sharply-worded statements, calling out the West on the war, were the clearest enunciation of India’s position on not choosing sides explicitly.
In February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Jaishankar had a point when he spoke last year about the “European mindset”. Jaishankar had said that Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.
In the G-20 year, Jaishankar is the principal negotiator of political declarations. He will play a critical role in the projection of India’s interests.
By the way
He likes to play squash in his free time.
2) Amit Shah, Home Minister
Rank last year: 2
Shah in top 10 of Most Powerful Indians Home Minister Amit Shah (PTI Photo)
Together with Narendra Modi, he is one half of the BJP’s formidable Big Two. A master strategist, despite not being national president of the BJP for three years now, Amit Shah’s imprint has been visible in each of the BJP’s big electoral victories — from Gujarat to Maharashtra to UP and the Northeast.
Shah was the brain behind the BJP’s “sweet revenge” against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena that led to the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra. Shah’s strategy apparently led to Eknath Shinde leading a rebellion against Thackeray, after which Shah worked out the minute details of government formation that led to Shinde taking over as Chief Minister with Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy.
Other than the electoral battles that lie ahead for the BJP, Shah has now taken up the mission of establishing Primary Agriculture Credit Societies (PACS) across the country. These are meant to be providers of various services to gram panchayats and could emerge as significant political influencers at the grassroot level.
By the way
Shah was keen on his granddaughter learning Hindu scriptures, but left the decision to her mother. Today, six-year-old Rudri can recite verses from some of them.
1) Narendra Modi, Prime Minister
Rank last year: 1
Modi on IE 100 List of Most Powerful Indians Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI Photo)
Year Nine and Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains The Great Disruptor, The Powerful Outsider and the incumbent with the strongest shield against anti-incumbency as he leads his party’s campaign for a third term next year. From toilets and gas cylinders to splitting Jammu & Kashmir, laying the foundation of the Ram temple to a new spot on the global stage, Modi’s power draws from his energy to shape the discourse — and reshape it as per his wish. Criticism of concentration of power, democratic backsliding and over-reach by agencies is yet to find an echo on the electoral street.
Every election is fought in his name. Despite being away from Gujarat, he flew down, threw his weight behind the campaign and took the BJP to a record tally and a historic seventh term.
Keeping the Opposition constantly pushed to the wall has helped him shrink their space. With nine states poll-bound this year, Karnataka next month, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later, their outcome will shape his 2024 strategy. The G-20 summit in September will buttress his India-as-global-leader image, right in time for countdown to Campaign 2024.
By the way
Modi often encourages his council of ministers to talk and engage with junior officers and staff and learn from their experiences.
1. Narendra Modi
2. Amit Shah
3. S Jaishankar
4. DY Chandrachud
5. Yogi Adityanath
6. Mohan Bhagwat
7. JP Nadda
8. Nirmala Sitharaman
9. Mukesh Ambani
10. Ajit Doval
11. Rajnath Singh
12. BL Santhosh
13. Mamata Banerjee
14. Nitish Kumar
15. Rahul Gandhi
16. Arvind Kejriwal
17. Himanta Biswa Sarma
18. Sanjay Mishra
19. Ashwini Vaishnaw
20. Kiran Rijiju
21. Shaktikanta Das
22. N Chandrasekaran
23. Mallikarjun Kharge
24. Manoj Sinha
25. Amitabh Kant
26. Nitin Gadkari
27. Mansukh Mandaviya
28. Piyush Goyal
29. Hardeep Singh Puri
30. Sonia Gandhi
31. Uday Kotak
32. Bhupendra Yadav
33. Gautam Adani
34. MK Stalin
36. Anurag Thakur
37. Smriti Irani
39. Devendra Fadnavis
40. Tejashwi Yadav
41. Bhupesh Baghel
42. Naveen Patnaik
43. Pinarayi Vijayan
44. Uddhav Thackeray
45. Sunil Mittal
46. CR Paatil
47. Jay Shah
48. Nita Ambani
49. Sanjay Kishan Kaul
50. Shah Rukh Khan
51. Bhupendra Patel
52. Eknath Shinde
53. Virat Kohli
54. Tushar Mehta
55. VK Saxena
56. BV Nagarathna
57. Sharad Pawar
58. Jagan Reddy
59. Dharmendra Pradhan
60. Dattatreya Hosabale
61. Shivraj Chouhan
62. Ashok Gehlot
63. Manohar Lal Khattar
64. Hemant Soren
65. Priyanka Gandhi
66. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat
67. Basavaraj Bommai
68. Bhagwant Singh Mann
69. Azim Premji
70. CDS Anil Chauhan
71. Army Chief Manoj Pande
72. CEC Rajiv Kumar
73. PK Mishra
74. Rajeev Chandrasekhar
75. Bimal Patel
76. Kumar Mangalam Birla
77. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury
78. Shashi Tharoor
79. Sukhvinder Singh Sukku
80. Vasundhara Raje
81. Jagadesh Kumar
82. Asaduddin Owaisi
83. Rohit Sharma
84. Akhilesh Yadav
85. Apollo Pratap Reddy
86. Nandan Nilekani
87. Amitabh Bachchan
88. Mehbooba Mufti
89. Farooq Abdullah
90. TV Somanathan
91. Sajjan Jindal
92. V Anantha Nageswaran
93. Pushkar Dhami
95. SS Rajamouli
96. Fali Nariman
97. Deepika Padukone
98. Yusuf Ali
99. Alia Bhatt
100. Ranveer Singh
First published on: 30-03-2023 at 06:00 IST