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. “power over filthy poor brown people dont count. power over rich white people does count. not sure if its any more complex than that.” Puliogre–

    How about powre (oops, I mean power — must have been thinking of spelling Puliogre) influence over rich brown people and filty, poor white people? Really. The stereotypes that are perpetuated here of all places.

  2. How about powre (oops, I mean power — must have been thinking of spelling Puliogre) influence over rich brown people and filty, poor white people? Really. The stereotypes that are perpetuated here of all places.

    oh. i dont buy the steriotypes, but i think thats how power is defined. brown peeps are poor and dont count.

  3. The problem with Sonia Gandhi is this (other than the usual lack of qualifications to lead a country): 1) She would not even be in the running for freaking town coucilperson if she stayed back in Italy. 2) She never embraced India willingly. She is there because her prospects are the strongest in India and her husband’s legacy probaby has some emotional hold in making her want to stay in India. She is a foreigner, even if no longer technically. Arnold is more American than she is Indian. I don’t think she even remotely thought she was Indian even in her 30s. She probably did not aquire any Indianness until she was well into her 40s. It’s not like she was Indian in spirit until she moved to India.

  4. Here is Vidya Chhabria’s background, according to Forbes magazine: Chhabria became chairman of the $2 billion conglomerate, the Jumbo Group, when her husband, takeover titan Manu Chhabria, died in 2002. Headquartered in Dubai, the company oversees 28 companies operating in as many as 50 countries, with interests in durables, chemicals, machinery, liquor products and agriculture. The company is best known for its ownership of Jumbo Electronics, one of the world’s largest distributors of consumer electronics, information technology, telecom products and home appliances. Two years after divesting most of its businesses in India, the Jumbo Group is considering re-entering India this year.—Helen Coster

  5. Chhabria became chairman of the $2 billion conglomerate, the Jumbo Group, when her husband, takeover titan Manu Chhabria, died in 2002. Headquartered in Dubai, the company oversees 28 companies operating in as many as 50 countries, with interests in durables, chemicals, machinery, liquor products and agriculture. The company is best known for its ownership of Jumbo Electronics, one of the world’s largest distributors of consumer electronics, information technology, telecom products and home appliances. Two years after divesting most of its businesses in India, the Jumbo Group is considering re-entering India this year.—Helen Coster

    i NEED a sugarmomma. is marrying into wealth and power an option for dudes?

  6. Pravin@54, I do give Sonia credit from stopping congress becoming totally non-existant. I do not support either bjp or congress but I feel there should a healthy 2 or more party competition, and no monopoly. She was wise to not opt for the PM position, and does well to control the congress, although I think she should give more leeway to the prime minister and leash arjun-OBCquota-singh.

  7. Pravin@54, I do give Sonia credit from stopping congress becoming totally non-existant

    I wish the Congress Party would become non-existant.

  8. The list seems a little arbitrary, Nancy Pelosi speaker of the house and two heartbeats from the presidency trails Melinda Gates at #26?

  9. i NEED a sugarmomma. is marrying into wealth and power an option for dudes?

    Not at all, Puli. You missed the big catch, tho, Mittal’s daughter. :-(

  10. As far as Japan kicking Russia’s butt in the Russo-Japanese war, 1904-07, Japan was emboldened by the Anglo-Japanese alliance. Still, Russia’s was an awful big butt to have kicked, and the victory did assure that Japan entered the 20th century as a power to be reckoned with, and a determination to grow a taller population. (the average Japanese male was less than 5 ft tall and this bothered them a lot). Nevertheless, this made their victory all the more impressive.

    They would, however, never have gone in without a backup plan. This alliance also brought them the Rothschilds from the London bureau, a mutual-admiration-society relationship that lasts to this day, introducing to the world scene the geat Takahaishi. [Takahashi Korekiyo, the Rothschilds and the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1907. Richard Smethurst recalls the genesis of the relationship between the Rothschild banks and one of the gret figure in Japan's history, Takahashi Korekiyo.] http://www.rothschildarchive.org/ib/?doc=/ib/articles/annualreview

    I’m not sure how this comment relates to “powerful women in the early 21st century” but I believe Takahashi’s daughter was important to the scenario but haven’t researched that enough to comment.

  11. Not at all, Puli. You missed the big catch, tho, Mittal’s daughter. :-(

    Nah, Mittal’s daughter no sugamomma. She will bring a lot of wealth fer sure but then one would have to deal with Mittal and co. I’d rather get a sugamomma too busy running her business to have no time for me, she gives me the money, I fool with the hotties who love me for my(her) money and when big momma needs a date for a dinner or some crap, I do ‘my job’. Mr Bond would be proud of me!!

  12. i NEED a sugarmomma. is marrying into wealth and power an option for dudes?

    First off : Vidya Chhabria did not necessarily marry into money.Like Dhirubhai Ambani,Manu Chhabria started small in Mumbai selling radio parts .He then moved to Dubai and made it big.I’m gonna hazarda guess and say he wasn’t all that big when he got married!

    However:Yes, Dudes can marry into wealth and power. One word:K-Fed :-)

    SM Intern et al: I want to apologize if my earlier comments somehow sparked off that whole nasty bit in the middle. Was not intentional

  13. Hillside.

    America is a land of immigrants, India isn’t.

    If immigration to America stops today, and the current population mix continues forward, will immigrants in a few decades or centuries be unwelcome? Will they be less American?

    India, and the population worldwide that identifies as “Desi”, are arguably more heterogenous than America is or ever will be. We could get into a dissertation on the waves of invaders in the past and the more recent waves of migration, but the bottom line is that India, like America, has thrived on incorporation and assimilation of diverse people. Whether you see it or not, I believe using the immigration-to-America angle is a very relevant analogy to why Sonia is and should be accepted as Indian.

  14. 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

    in writing the indian constitution, ambedkar (and the drafting commitee) was inspired by many constitutions, esp. the US and british formats. when the US constitution clearly requires a president to be a native-born citizen (and this is the only political position for which an american leader may not be a naturalized citizen) i do not see why india neglected to write this in for the PM. granted, at that time, they prob. never foresaw a non-indian even wanting to run the country, but given the recent split from the empire and pakistan/bdesh, it actually would have made much sense to reiterate this point, just for safety’s sake. alternately, this could have been added at any point during sonia’s rise in the INC. there was no point in crying over spilt milk – the politicians have only themselves to blame for sitting on the fence for so long. furthermore, the reason why they cast aspersions on her character, intentions towards india, patriotism, race etc (i won’t argue the validity or invalidity of such arguments) was because they knew the law was not on their side.

    as for the the list, it’s good to see women in general in such prominent positions. and my mom is all for her hometown-girl indra nooyi.

    have a happy labour day!

  15. sigh I don’t wanna get into an is-she-or-isn’t-she argument, so I won’t state my unpopular opinion on that (though I’m sure y’all can figure it out by that)… but I concur with what someone said above, NO WAY in hell would Sonia Gandhi have as much power as she does if she happened to be black. C’mon, Indians are obsessed with ‘the other,’ having the history of invasion/migrations/assimilation that they do. The white ‘other’ to be more specific. I don’t believe that immigration and assimilation carry quite the same meanings in our post-WW2 postmodern world though.

    Given that obesity is on the rise in India (and in the US), and with junk foods like PepsiCo’s playing some role, I’d say she has power. I think the health-care and pharmaceutical industries will agree too.

    Ah, so she’s the one responsible for worsening the diabetes epidemic?

  16. but given the recent split from the empire and pakistan/bdesh

    ak,

    They couldn’t possibly insist that the PM had to be born in what is ( post 1947 ) India.Else people like L K Advani ( born in what is now Pakistan) would be forever barred :-) .If they chose to , the writers of the constitution could have specified exactly which areas /states would be counted and that presumably would have been too cumbersome .. Pervez Musharraf for example, was born in Delhi :-)

    there was no point in crying over spilt milk

    Exactly my point – luckily democracy allows us to lobby to change laws and everyones attention would have been better spent on that.

  17. delurker on August 31, 2007 12:32 PM · Direct link

    Mrs. Gandhi’s citizenship is Indian.

    I will always hate her for taking up the citizenship much much later than you would you expect her to. Its not like the Indian government INS is like the US INS

  18. runa, i was thinking about that, but if the definition of citizen excluded modern-day pakistan, bdesh citizens etc (e.g. as they exclude current pakistani citizens from PIO cards) and simultaneously required that those who fall under the term ‘citizen’ must also have been born in what was formerly india, it might have worked – only those who moved to india later would be considered a citizen, and expanding their birth place to allow for bdesh- and pakistan-borns would allow people like advani to be PM, but not somebody like musharraf. basically, the solution should be to combine the geographic and political definitions of ‘indian’ in some way. perhaps it was an inability to get around this situation in 1952 that led to this omission; but, as i said, there was nothing to prevent them from adding it in later.

  19. They couldn’t possibly insist that the PM had to be born in what is ( post 1947 ) India.Else people like L K Advani ( born in what is now Pakistan) would be forever barred :-) .If they chose to , the writers of the constitution could have specified exactly which areas /states would be counted and that presumably would have been too cumbersome .. Pervez Musharraf for example, was born in Delhi :-)

    Also, some of the leaders were not even born in undivided India.

    Even in undivided India, Manmohan Singh is from Lahore. Zia-ul-Haq was Delhi bred.

    Many Indian leaders (Gandhi included) were born in princely states in Indian subcontinent – and some of those princely states although puppets of British India were technically separate in all sense of the word. Moreover, there was incredible hodge podge at that time, states would be independent for a while, and then incorporated into British India at some point.

    Ambedkar and his team were very smart cookies, and they thought through the whole thing very carefully.

  20. Its not like the Indian government INS is like the US INS

    Pappu( like that handle!) ,

    I lowe my Yindia and all that … but unfortunately, I have to point out that INS maybe a little better :-(

    Per wiki:

    Citizenship of India by naturalisation can be acquired by a foreigner who has resided in India for twelve years. The applicant must have lived a total of 11 years in India in a period of 14 years, and must have spent in India the past 12 months preceding the application.

    I think in the US you can apply for citizenship in 5 years after you get permamnent residency .Assuming you get your green card 5 years after you land here, that still makes it only 10 years compared iwth 12 :-)

    Also ,per Wiki, I found out something that I had not known .Can anyone verify this:

    “Those born in India on or after 3 December 2004 are considered citizens of India only if both of their parents are citizens of India or if one parent is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of their birth.”

    At least the USA has not stripped children of illegal immigrants of citizenship!

    ak: I get what you are saying now

  21. “Those born in India on or after 3 December 2004 are considered citizens of India only if both of their parents are citizens of India or if one parent is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of their birth.”

    Yes, this rule was changed due to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. That is a very hot button issue in India.

    This said, you can become an Indian in 15 minutes – get a fake ration card, and through that you can get everything else.

  22. “Those born in India on or after 3 December 2004 are considered citizens of India only if both of their parents are citizens of India or if one parent is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of their birth.”

    the USA could learn a thing or two from india ;-)

  23. Ah, so she’s the one responsible for worsening the diabetes epidemic?
    What do you think?

    i blame it on the complan boy (and girl) – have you guys seen how much fat, sugar, and calories are in one serving? horlicks is the same, though it’s lovely to have every once in a while….

  24. This said, you can become an Indian in 15 minutes – get a fake ration card, and through that you can get everything else

    Kush, Sigh! Can’t argue with that. Thanks for verifying the info. I can’t believe that I missed that- I think its very unfair to not give citizenship to any kids born in India.

    What if neither parent is Indian but the kid is born in India? ( 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

  25. RE: diabetes

    Don’t forget how much sugar they put in tea over there! And drink it every afternoon, too.

    I remember I spent one summer with my grandmother’s sister in Tenali. Her friend would come over every afternoon to sit on the verandah and drink tea and eat biscuits. It was DELICIOUS. And it was so good to do in that heat.

    That grandmother’s sister now has diabetes. :(

  26. At least the USA has not stripped children of illegal immigrants of citizenship!

    Runa, different countries, different situations, different “what works.” Not all countries have to model their laws on US immigration laws.

  27. What if neither parent is Indian but the kid is born in India? ( 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

    First, Indian citizenship is not that prized. It might become in 10-20 years from now.

    I think Indian citizenship laws have undergone multiple changes – they started pretty lax – but since Indian border with Nepal** and Bangladesh are porous, they had to tighten them. Also, they have been some technicalities with the Tibetans*!

    ** Nepal, technically, they can hold dual passports under some circumstances, like if they (their parents) were/ are in British or present-day Indian army. I have met Nepalis with dual passports. You can cross Nepal-India border though rickshaw or cycle.

    *! Tibetans born in India can become Indian citizens but Dalai Lama and Tibetan council discourages it because it dilutes their cause for the homeland. Some do.

  28. nala, I’m aware of the sweet tooth that Indians have, plus the low priority of regular physical activity. There’s a higher genetic disposition to diabetes among Indians (razib?). Some of my relatives have diabetes. That’s why I highlighted “some” in my original post. I really see no point to add junk food to the already sweet Indian diet, given that it doesn’t improve the situation, and in fact, may help worsen it.

  29. Correction: 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.

  30. First,Indian citizenship is not that prized. It might become in 10-20 years from now.

    Ouch :-(

    Not all countries have to model their laws on US immigration laws.

    Agreed,Amit,I am not saying that.My response was in context to the statement that Indian Immigration is “better” than the INS.

    I guess my conflict arises from my personal beliefs and experience: I believe that children of illegal immigrants are innocent victims and should not be penalized for their parents’ mistakes. Seeing many of my acquaintances who are desis moving here from India, getting a reltively smooth path to citizenship and having US citizenship conferred upon their children born here just makes me feel its a better system here , more humane? Again this is just a personal opinion so we can agree to disagree.

    No more thread jack from me

  31. 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

    so i guess, technially the child has no claim of citizenship to any country when he/she is born – and the only way to get it in this case is if his parents file for it in the states? or he/she gets nothing at all???

    amit – there was a recent article in nyt about a study published in the ny area – desi (men, mostly, i think) had an astonishingly high rate of diabetes. but india doesn’t need pepsi to bring in the junk food – murukku, halwa, chiwda, chakri etc – we seem to do fine on our own…

  32. murukku, halwa, chiwda, chakri etc – we

    Yum,yum,yum,yum - carb starved Runa weeps silently

  33. There’s a higher genetic disposition to diabetes among Indians (razib?).

    yes, controlling for diet this seems true. “western” diet is bad for brown people. we seem to suffer more ailments when obese compared to northern europeans (so be cautious about using BMI measures designed for whites as the standard for health).

  34. also, by the same measure, northern europeans likely don’t gain as much health from the “mediterranean diet” as people from the mediterranean region.

  35. Runa, I agree with you in principle, but the humane treatment to children of illegal immigrants (in granting them citizenship) has to be balanced with what’s best for the society/country overall, and different countries may have different needs. I’ll have to look up the US citizenship requirements/laws (whether they are flexible or sacrosanct-enshrined in the constitution) and I wouldn’t be surprised if a decade from now, the US immigration laws for citizenship look different from what they are today. I know of a case where a Green Card was canceled because the Indian dude continued to live in India and visited US just to satisfy the requirements to maintain that status. He was told in no uncertain terms that his intention was to stay in India and that’s not what the Green Card is for.

    ak, yes, we have plenty of “junk” food already, though such foods were a treat growing up and not a daily thing. I’m all for eating healthy food and being moderate.

    Also, the child of the American couple will be a US citizen (because of parents) even if s/he is born in India (I think).

  36. 67

    in writing the indian constitution, ambedkar (and the drafting commitee) was inspired by many constitutions, esp. the US and british formats. when the US constitution clearly requires a president to be a native-born citizen (and this is the only political position for which an american leader may not be a naturalized citizen) i do not see why india neglected to write this in for the PM. granted, at that time, they prob. never foresaw a non-indian even wanting to run the country, but given the recent split from the empire and pakistan/bdesh, it actually would have made much sense to reiterate this point, just for safety’s sake. alternately, this could have been added at any point during sonia’s rise in the INC. there was no point in crying over spilt milk – the politicians have only themselves to blame for sitting on the fence for so long. furthermore, the reason why they cast aspersions on her character, intentions towards india, patriotism, race etc (i won’t argue the validity or invalidity of such arguments) was because they knew the law was not on their side.

    There was a probable reason why the born citizen was not written into the constitution. On that count many postindependent Indian leaders would be disqualified to run for high public office. To wit, Mr. Gujral could not have held the post of Prime Minister of India on that count as he was born in the present day Pakistan.

  37. I think Vidya is Manu Chhabria’s widow. Manu used to own Shaw Wallace in addition to Jumbo electronics which was one of the biggest liqour companies in India. He went on from trading radio parts in Lamington Road in Bombay to establishing a $1.5 billion empire.

    Shaw Wallace = booze, Jumbo Electronics = not booze.

    ak

    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 in writing the indian constitution, ambedkar (and the drafting commitee) was inspired by many constitutions, esp. the US and british formats. when the US constitution clearly requires a president to be a native-born citizen (and this is the only political position for which an american leader may not be a naturalized citizen) i do not see why india neglected to write this in for the PM. granted, at that time, they prob. never foresaw a non-indian even wanting to run the country, but given the recent split from the empire and pakistan/bdesh, it actually would have made much sense to reiterate this point, just for safety’s sake. alternately, this could have been added at any point during sonia’s rise in the INC. there was no point in crying over spilt milk – the politicians have only themselves to blame for sitting on the fence for so long. furthermore, the reason why they cast aspersions on her character, intentions towards india, patriotism, race etc (i won’t argue the validity or invalidity of such arguments) was because they knew the law was not on their side.

    Well now, it’s still counterintuitive that someone born elsewhere should lead India. America is pretty unusual about accepting naturalized citizens in positions of authority– I mean, would you expect a nice Spanish lady to become PM of Japan, just because she married into a powerful Japanese family? Or a Nigerian lady running the Philippines? I think the Indian Constitution is ripe for at least a couple or three amendments. One, Indian-born PM and President. Two, Indian Parliament has final approval about international agreements signed by Govt. 3) President chosen by electoral process out of candidates proposed by all parties.

    Sonia can’t help it, she has Western values under her pleated sari.

  38. in writing the indian constitution, ambedkar (and the drafting commitee) was inspired by many constitutions, esp. the US and british formats. when the US constitution clearly requires a president to be a native-born citizen (and this is the only political position for which an american leader may not be a naturalized citizen) i do not see why india neglected to write this in for the PM. granted, at that time, they prob. never foresaw a non-indian even wanting to run the country, but given the recent split from the empire and pakistan/bdesh, it actually would have made much sense to reiterate this point, just for safety’s sake. alternately, this could have been added at any point during sonia’s rise in the INC. there was no point in crying over spilt milk – the politicians have only themselves to blame for sitting on the fence for so long. furthermore, the reason why they cast aspersions on her character, intentions towards india, patriotism, race etc (i won’t argue the validity or invalidity of such arguments) was because they knew the law was not on their side.

    This is ak’s

  39. hoipolloi @ 92 – did you read my #71, in response to runa’s same point at 69?

    amrita – i agree with you; i don’t think anything i have said has contradicted your PoV? but i still stand by the point that given that this was an explicit part of the US constitution, why not have provided it in the indian version for safety’s sake – either in 1952, or afterwards? there was plenty of time between sonia gandhi’s entrance into politics to her assuming the lead in the INC. not to mention that she was somewhat coaxed by indian leaders themselves to become active in her own right, after RG’s death…

  40. Citizenship of India by naturalisation can be acquired by a foreigner who has resided in India for twelve years. The applicant must have lived a total of 11 years in India in a period of 14 years, and must have spent in India the past 12 months preceding the application.

    I think in the US you can apply for citizenship in 5 years after you get permamnent residency .Assuming you get your green card 5 years after you land here, that still makes it only 10 years compared iwth 12 :-) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Oh common now Runa… that never happens…..Been here 7 years and m still in the LCA stage of the Green Card… Pappu kab pass hoga ? :-(

  41. First, Indian constitution was passed in 1950, not 1952.

    I think what I read there were debates in 1949 about the citizenship in Indian Constituent Assembly. They decided that there is no difference in citizenship (hence the eligibility to the highest office), whether it is acquired by birth or naturalization or any other means. This issue came to Indian Supreme Court as recent as 2004.

    Some of it might have to do with politics of the period – states were being acquired to the Indian Union at that time (1949), Kashmir, Hyderabad. Later Goa, Pondicherry, and Sikkim.

  42. They decided that there is no difference in citizenship (hence the eligibility to the highest office), whether it is acquired by birth or naturalization or any other means.

    That was very sweet of them, Kush, but I think it mainly applied to Indian-born and Pakistan-born, as above. At the time, people from further afield didn’t much come to live in Desh except the Staying On types, and Lord knows they weren’t running for office, or, I should say, standing for election. Still, equality as a citizen is separate from eligibility for office– I mean, a twenty-two year old is not as fit to serve as Minister for Agriculture as, say, a forty year old, them’s the breaks, although they may be equally well suited to be empowered to vote. You can’t get it absolutely right the first time for all time. That’s why there are amendments.

  43. amrita – i agree with you; i don’t think anything i have said has contradicted your PoV?

    We are utterly in harmony, ak, I just wanted to make the point that I wasn’t claiming authorship of your excellent words.