India Insight

Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh slip in Forbes’ most powerful list

India’s top politicians Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have fallen out of the top 20 in Forbes’ annual list of the world’s most powerful people.

Gandhi, leader of India’s Congress party, was No. 21 on the 2013 list, down from 12 last year. Prime Minister Singh took the 28th spot in the list, also losing nine spots since 2012.

Gandhi was ranked third among nine women in the annual list of the world’s 72 most-powerful people — one for every 100 million people on Earth — which Forbes said is based on factors ranging from wealth to global influence.

The Forbes ranking found four heads of state occupying the top five spots among the world’s most powerful people. Russian President Vladimir Putin bumped American counterpart Barack Obama from the No. 1 spot. China’s president Xi Jinping, Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel rounded out the top five.

The list’s highest-ranked businessman was Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates at No. 6. Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and chairman of Reliance Industries, slipped a spot to 38 this year while Indian-born steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal was at No. 51, sandwiched between the presidents of the World Bank and South Korea.

Euphoria over Rahul Gandhi’s new role may be short-lived

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)

Rahul Gandhi has his work cut out as the new Congress vice president. His speech at the party’s brainstorming meeting on Sunday impressed fans and critics, but it probably is too soon to celebrate.

While he may be the best choice to take charge of the Congress campaign before the 2014 elections, state battles could remain outside his control. No matter how good the 42-year-old Gandhi might prove himself to be, prevailing in the nine assembly elections happening this year will be a tough sell.

Women voters in India want to stand up and be counted

Several years ago, a dinner-table conversation about state elections in Himachal Pradesh veered towards a candidate who gave away pressure cookers to woo women voters. Of course, bribing voters is illegal, but I remember wondering whether all I wanted as a woman was a pressure cooker.

The Delhi rape case and the molestation of a young girl in Guwahati in Assam last year have underscored the place that women often occupy in Indian society. These incidents have made me wonder to what extent our country’s political parties will focus on gender inequality as they look forward to the 2014 general elections. How will they vie for the women’s vote?

Until now, political parties and their largely male leadership focussed on the ‘aam aadmi’, or the common man, a phrase which subsumes women. Politicians and other public figures don’t make much hay of gender inequality and many of the attitudes toward women that hurt a large portion of our society — and when they do, they’re often lacking. The best attitude that politicians often apply to women is a patronising one. Instead of focusing on women’s empowerment through education and awareness, politicians distribute saris, cookers and sanitary napkins.

Nine miracles Congress might expect from Rahul Gandhi

Now that Rahul Gandhi has assumed what many would say was his rightful place, expectations from him would be high. These will be all the more pressing within the Congress party, which will look to its new vice president to help it retain power. Here is a list of those possible expectations: Hook the young ones: Gandhi is widely presented as the youthful face of the 128-year-old Congress party. At 42, he is the youngest leader in the highest ranks. With 70 percent of India’s population below the age of 35, today’s young people form an irresistible voting bloc to court. Target Dalits and “backward” classes: Rahul Gandhi’s visits to the homes of Dalits and so-called backward classes, in particular in rural India, have been well recorded. You could say that it’s just politics and public relations, but Congress needs to show more support for groups that often gravitate toward smaller regional parties. Duplicate NSUI and Youth Wing experiments: This means tackling what federal minister Jairam Ramesh called “structural problems” within Congress. Gandhi has brought about vital electoral and membership reforms in the Congress’s Youth Wing as well as its National Students Union of India, providing a wider gateway for people to enter politics. Many Congress delegates at the party’s meeting in Jaipur demanded similar progress. At the moment, members in the top Congress body are nominated, and candidates for election are usually hand picked by the party high command. Image makeover: Congress needs an image makeover in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of 2014. Rahul Gandhi’s relatively clean image and straight-talk against graft could be the party’s hope at a time when corruption scandals threaten to end its 10-year rule at the center. New alliances, preserving old friends: Who knew that lacking political experience would be a job qualification? Gandhi, with this important note on his CV, can forge new alliances and nurture old friendships that are prone to developing cracks. The “Gandhi” name: The name and the party have been intertwined since India’s independence. Whether the brand value behind the name is good or bad is sometimes hard to say. Rahul Gandhi has a chance to eliminate the need to ask the question. If he can eliminate or minimize fighting among party members, this will help. Ground realities: Congress has been accused of being out of touch with reality. Gandhi will need to project a friendly face and speak realistic words to help the party’s image. Speaking of which… speak up: Though Rahul has been a politician for nine years, public speaking has not been his forte. He has rarely expressed his opinion on various burning topics. This has emboldened the opposition and given the media evidence to say that he is not ready for senior management. It’s time to share. Lead India into the new century: A thumping victory in the 2014 elections with Gandhi as vice president and leader of the party’s campaign committee for the elections would be nice. Congress workers will hope that he will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate as well, a trump card in the face of regional and hostile forces such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister (and former Congress ally) Mamata Banerjee. That said, some dreams may be a little too unrealistic for now.

Why Rahul Gandhi stepped into the spotlight

The Congress has for a long time acknowledged Rahul Gandhi as heir apparent and several party members had openly said that he is their leader. Which means his appointment on Saturday as the party’s vice president — a post just below that of Congress chief and Rahul’s mother Sonia — was in many ways just a matter of finding him a suitable title.

So why should it matter?

One reason for Gandhi’s long-awaited promotion was to energise the party for a round of state elections in the run-up to the national elections in 2014. The Congress remains a party which derives its charisma from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and party workers openly swoon over the family. News of Gandhi’s appointment was greeted with fireworks and proclamations by party leaders of brighter days ahead.

Congress leader RPN Singh said this would be a “game changer” which would infuse “new vigour” in the party.

How to insult people, Indian politician-style

If you were a reporter covering the Shiv Sena in 2006, the place to be was a nondescript restaurant located midway between party offices and those of Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj, who rebelled and formed a new party after a fall-out with his uncle.

At this hole-in-the-wall eatery, party workers from both sides would let it all out — the vitriol would flow freely against Raj, the Thackerays and the Congress party. A lot of these barbs were never repeated outside those four walls, but some of that vitriol certainly seeped into the public speeches of their leaders.Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in Gujarat October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is certainly taking over from the Thackerays when it comes to handing out insults — he’s been targeting almost every single opponent in his election campaign.

Rahul Gandhi and an embarrassment of titles

Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker and son of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, smiles as he speaks with the media in New Delhi March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma   “Young emperor”, “scion”, “leader-in-waiting” are some of the words used to affectionately describe Congress MP Rahul Gandhi. His official party designation is Congress general secretary, but that could soon change.

Various media reports say Rahul will soon be elevated to the “No. 2 position” in the Congress Party, and a lot of designations are being bandied about to qualify for the post just below the party chief, otherwise known as his mother Sonia Gandhi.

He could receive the title of “secretary general” or “working president” or “vice president”, but these almost feel like they’re trying to confuse the poor guy, not coronate him.

A user’s guide to India’s cabinet reshuffle

(Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.)

In what is most likely the last cabinet reshuffle for the UPA-II government  before the 2014 general elections, 22 ministers were sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Sunday.

Here is the background, as explained by Frank Jack Daniel and Mayank Bhardwaj of Reuters:

Rahul Gandhi can change Congress’ image with cabinet entry

India is asking the same old question after news reports said Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday before a possible cabinet reshuffle later this month: will Gandhi be one of the cards in his deck?

Gandhi’s entry into the government would be the only opportunity for him to prove that he has what it takes to one day rule India. He’s seen as the prime-minister-in-waiting, and a cabinet post would better equip him to deal with the hurly-burly of Indian politics.

Several cabinet posts are vacant, and some cabinet ministers hold additional portfolios. And even after passing market-moving reform measures, Congress’ task of boosting its public image is incomplete.

The news this weekend: LPG, Kejriwal, toilets, politicians… and Somali pirates

It’s shaping up as a busy weekend for India’s politicians…

The price of LPG — liquefied petroleum gas cylinders, or cooking gas — has risen 11.42 rupees per cylinder because dealers are getting higher commissions. TV channels attacked the government because this “shocker” comes right after the imposition of a cap on subsidized cylinder sales was imposed.

Bharatiya Janata Party politician Smriti Irani said the party will hold a nation-wide protest on Oct. 12, saying the higher prices are “anti-women”. This is presumably because they do more of the daily cooking than men, whose potential inversely proportional waistline shrinkage could be in their favour.

We all know who the main attraction is on news channels nowadays: social activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal. Here are the pots that he’s stirring:

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