The Most Powerful Desi Women in the World

Forbes‘s annual “100 most powerful women” list names Indra Nooyi, Chairman & CEO of PepsiCo the #5 most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful Desi woman. She edges out #6 – Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress Party — thus creating a pretty impressive showing in the top 10. The final desi on the list, and a previously unknown one to me – #97 Vidya Chhabria – hails from the UAE.

A hearty SM congrats all around.

Worth noting – Pratibha Patil gets a nod as a “powerful woman behind the woman”; now that will get some SM tongues wagging.

119 thoughts on “The Most Powerful Desi Women in the World

  1. and rajiv gandhi wasn’t so socialist. he began the economic liberalization that occurred full force in 91 with changes that helped create a small technocratic class before then.

  2. Pro Sonia guys,

    Your beloved USA will never allow a desi immigrant to be the president. that’s the law. sto stop comparing the immigrant experience in US. Remember that after all these centuries, kallus are still ‘black americans’,a nd not ‘americans’. So, do not for a moment think that you are on so beloved in the USA.

    Sonia can rule India when an Indian immigrant is allowed to head a political party in her Italy and while italians accept him as the leader and wash his feet.

    Goras is any goraland never like any brown skin. they might be okay with a brownie female, if she’s good looking, but as for a brownie male with an attitude and ambition, good luck. Esp the ambition part.

  3. boohoo. we can’t all be prezident. we’re brown. we can’t be George Washington or Ronald Reagan or Ronald McDonald. Meanwhile, Sonia dalla Italia gets to be elected president of India? It’s a fluke. Will never happen again. Italians are not flocking to live in India and powerful Indians are not bringing home farangi spouses in any numbers. You have no fear of an Italian coup and the Brits sure as hell aren’t coming back. Now. How about Obama? Does he make you feel better. He’s got a shot at it. The American president is an iconic representation of power–they all find that out when they get the Oval Office; often a confusing and humiliating circumstance, because we have to thank the likes of Henry Kissinger for saving us from Nixon’s wiggly old finger on the little red button. True power resides behind the curtain, people. The really big power-brokers know that. Only childish roustabouts really think the man on the throne controls the works. That shocked, numb, suddenly aged look that Presidents get is proof of their discovery. One person out of 200 million somehow gets elected to what amounts to a figure head position and we don’t have “power?” Get over it. Real power is not posited in that position anyway–anybody think Bush’s brain is in his own head? No, that disgusting quantity is snuggled in the chubby skull of the recently departed Rove missile.

    Another odd fact that puts the highest American office in perspective. Many of the American presidents, with the obvious exception of JFK, were related to each other and to the old, early WASP and scotch-irish families. I have even read that Colin Powell is related to a number of these families, though i can’t verify that claim. It’s amazing, but Bush and Clinton are both distantly related to the Windsors–8th cousins or so. Now you may say that many people are related when you go back a some generations, but the American president cousin-club is nevertheless surprising and remarkable. This presidential phenomenon has persisted down to this day, and may be some sort of plot by these nefarious bluebloods, to keep the masses out of power–even white massess, much less brown and other colors. But I doubt it was planned. It’s just who you know and who your relatives are. And how smart you are, and how smart you seem. Indians understand those facts very, very well.

  4.        boohoo. we can't all be prezident. we're brown. we can't be George Washington or Ronald Reagan or Ronald McDonald

    i cant stop laughing everytime i read this…

  5. for example: a American couple moves to India and has a child there)Looks like the law does not extend Indian citizenship to the child

    Why would they not want the child to have US Citizenship? Plus India does not allow dual citizenship.

  6. Tibetans born in India become Indian citizens but Dalai Lama and Tibetan council discourages it because it dilutes their cause for the homeland. Some do opt for citizenships, others opt for refugee status.

    Similar logic is used by the Arab leadership as well when it comes to Palestinians.

  7. it doesn’t matter whether Mrs. Gandhi’s citizenship is “indian” or not. She is still not Desi. Most of us here probably have US citizenship….but we are Desi. The term has always been used as a reference to ethnicity, not nationality. This is evident in how it is used for all South Asian nationalities.

  8. Very cool! I had the privilege of having a one-on-one breakfast meeting with Indra Nooyi several years ago in Dallas, TX to discuss business. She is truly an impressive person who is not afraid to make the tough decisions. She was also extremely helpful!

  9. How can Indra Nooyi and Sonia Gandhi both be Indian? We can claim only one of them either ways. Indra Nooyi if it is by birth and Sonia gandhi if it is adoption.

  10. Kush/Amit, Thanks for the interesting links.

    Its a sobering thought that US citizenship also may not be always granted to anyone born here

    Pappu, Sorry :-( did not mean to “jale pe namak chidakna” .I did not realize that it takes so long for LCA clearance now Hope it speeds up for you

  11. I’m surprised that this has become a discussion about Sonia Gandhi, and not bashing the depredations of the Pepsi Corporation.

    Come on, people, it’s a multinational

  12. chachaji @ 48,

    nooyi is all that. she carries tremendous clout in the boardroom and is respected widely in the company. the board voted for her to become CEO unanimously. She engineered the Quaker and Gatiorade acquisitions and dumped the pizza hut-KFC-Tacobell chain of restaurants. sharpest person i have ever met.

    as for sonia, her reluctance to accept indianess initially and being handed everything on a platter is all true. but she has also come in to her own recently. I wonder what people prefer. An indian born man of the people that understands what ails society but continues to rape and plunder (Laloo) or a foreign born immigrant that has maybe started feeling for the people if only so that her son is perceived positively and has a chance at the throne. Are we concerned with means and motivations or end results?

    Gimme the martian prime minister that will make roads than the homie who’ll just get votes.

  13. @ 67 —As far as the law goes, the Indian constitution does NOT require a person born to be born in India to serve public office there. If there is a problem with the law, then the law needs to be changed

    It was not a oversight on Ambedkar’s and the fathers of the indian constitution. It was left out deliberately so that people of indian origin, who fled India during their fight against British slavery to other countries ro theones that were forcibly sent to the caribbean and fiji islands, and had progeny there could feel welcome to come back to their motherland and be indian if they wanted to and have a chance at ruling the country.

    The more i read about ambedkar, i wish i had lived in his time. one of the truly great people. I would give anything to have met him.

  14. Delirium, thanks for the enlightenment on Nooyi.

    On the subject of why India chose not to require ‘native born citizenship’ for Prime Ministerial office – two points.

    One, on the US comparison: the question really is why the US chose to have such a requirement. At the time of the US War of Independence, a substantial plurality of settlers were ‘Loyalists’, who continued to bear allegiance to the British Crown. The proportion of such Loyalists was very high among the more recent immigrants, and the ‘Founding Fathers’ wanted to rule out the possibility that someone such could become President. So they put in the ‘fourteen year residence rule’ for the immediate time, and the requirement to be a native born citizen for the future. As it was, the British never gave up their claim to the Thirteen colonies for quite a while, and Canada functioned as both a refuge for escaping Loyalists from the Northern states, as well as being a seat of British power in North America well into the nineteenth century. And a state of more or less permanent war existed between the nascent US and Great Britain till about 1814 or so. Anyway, maybe all that is well known here (among ABDs anyway! :) .

    But the other issue is also that India, when formed in 1947-50, was a civilizational entity that was straitjacketing itself as a unitary nation state. I think there may have been an expectation that the nation state would someday come to be as large as the said entity, and in particular, that Pakistan would ‘come back’ into the Union at some point. Such eventualities had been considered extensively during discussion of the Cabinet Mission plan(s) 1942-46. While Muslim League representatives had declined to participate in the proto-Constituent Assembly in 1946, Jinnah had been making noises about holding a separate Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Delhi at least till mid-1947. Certainly there was no expectation that a permanent antagonism would arise between the two states. So there was no need to rule out the idea that people born in the area now in the other jurisdiction could hold high public office in the first. And as it happened, many people, both in India and in Pakistan immigrated to the other country after anywhere upto a decade of living in the first, and subsequently held high public office. And I don’t think anyone foresaw even remotely an eventuality such as that an Italian-born woman someday get close to becoming PM.

    Final thought: while both the US and the Indian constitutions represent elite interests, the US elite of that time was profoundly nativist, while the Indian elite had elements that were more cosmopolitan, but also many who were inspite of that, quite socially conservative. The subsequent written documents, in my (non-lawyerly) opinion, clearly reflect these inherent biases.

  15. And as it happened, many people, both in India and in Pakistan immigrated to the other country after anywhere upto a decade of living in the first, and subsequently held high public office.

    Chachaji, excellent comments, but can you point me to any Pakistan-born Indian who remained in Pakistan for up to 10 years after Partition (as a conservative guess I’d say over 99% of non-Muslims had left West Pakistan by 1948 at the latest) and then later held public office? I know that there are Indian-born Muslims who had the luxury of living in India post-1947 but did eventually move to Pakistan more than a decade after Partition, and then ran for public office. The inherent unfairness and double-standards infuriate me.

    With all due respect, I don’t see why we always try to equate the two countries or the experiences of the minorities within; is it just to be nice?

  16. Amitabh, thanks for the good words. Sorry, I missed reading your response to my comment before just now.

    You are right that the two-way flows between what is now Pakistan and what is now India do not have the same distribution. But while I agree that virtually all Hindus and Sikhs who were going to migrate from West Punjab had probably done so by 1948, the Hindus from Sind, especially Karachi, did continue to migrate later, and in fact continue to do so even today. People with business interests for example, living in relatively cosmopolitan Karachi, may not have left immediately, partly because they may not have felt the need, or because they would have had to sustain huge losses if they had. In fact, some of them are still there. It’s worth remembering that there are nearly 3 million Hindus in Pakistan, mostly in Sind, and most of them ‘Dalits’ (forming in all less than 2% of the population).

    I seem to remember Ram Jethmalani, who was Law Minister in India, saying on BBC Urdu a few weeks ago, that he spent a few years in Pakistan before finally returning to Bombay to resume his practice. I might have misheard, and haven’t been able to get details of his exact career during 1947-57 on the web. Had I not heard that, I might not have written what I did, or worded it differently to more strongly emphasize the asymmetry in population movement over time. He was the example I had in mind.

    More generally, while I agree that there is a lot of wishful thinking and PC-ness around the subject – I do not agree, for example, that anything deeper can be read into the asymmetry of the population flows other than that it was an accident of history, geography, economics and demography.