Why India Today's 2018 list of powerful people looks beyond 'great wealth means power'
The cover story brings you men and women who control the narrative of our lives, move us, and sometimes transform us.
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The 15th year of India Today’s Power List sees a distinct shift, not only because it has the highest number of departures ever. As befits a year of churn, 12 people have made their exit from the list in 2017-18 as against 11 last year. The nature of power, so far largely defined by what chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian calls crony socialism - the cosy relationships between captains of industry and government ministers and officials - is giving way to a new power structure. Power which was once solely about who you knew and what you could get fixed with the powers-that-be has changed under the Narendra Modi regime.
One of the great achievements of this government is restricted access, even for those, or perhaps especially for those, who make the mistake of taking it for granted. Look closely at the list and you will understand some precipitous falls. The number of powerful businessmen has come down from 26 in 2017 to 22 this year. More important than the dropouts is the change in rankings. Reflecting the turbulence, 29 have moved up and seven have moved down.
India Today cover story, The High and Mighty: Power List 2018, for April 30, 2018.
Power is now about ideas, information and image. It is ideas that have transported youthful risk-takers to the top. These modern buccaneers have multiplied their fortunes and created value for stakeholders, whether through a financial app or an online retail start-up.
They are showing agility in the face of global behemoths, rather like a twisty baba in a saffron half dhoti who is chasing mammoth multinationals all the way back to their original homes. Information is what a crusty MP has on friends and rivals which has seen him cut many behemoths to size. A public image is what a successful automobile manufacturer knows is important in the era of social media which gives him immense influence. He exerts it for a good cause, whether it is to drum up support to save an iconic institution or to underscore the empathy required in public life.
Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power. But Lord Varys, kingmaker, schemer, plotter, in Game of Thrones, the millennials’ version of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, has it right - earning it for yourself, that takes work. Keeping it is even more difficult - some great titans have reached an age where they have just faded into the background. But the power list celebrates the resilience of other industrialists, whose investments in 20th century businesses from oil to automobiles to commodities are as firm as their credibility.
Position, we know, is not always power. But how power is exercised indicates influence. As sociologist Shiv Visvanathan says, by overemphasising corporate, bureaucratic and political power, power as knowledge and power as image get underplayed. India Today’s Power List doesn’t make that mistake.
Thought leaders, from a lawyer who is shaking the judiciary to the core to a polymath and public intellectual who takes a keen interest in nurturing the next generation of knowledge generators, are well represented. Those who influence our dreams are equally present in the list, their images claiming mindspace, from the action star who has reinvented himself as an actor with a conscience to a young woman whose box office credentials are backed by the courage to speak out even in the face of the vilest threats.
If any proof is needed about the power of moving pictures in India, it is that two great superstars of the south are attempting to launch their political careers, converting loyal fan clubs into party cadres.
Normally, great wealth means power. But India Today editors go beyond that in taking stock of the men and women on our list: their philanthropy, their carbon footprint, their icons, their motivations and their social imprint. These men and women control the narrative of our lives, they move us, shape us, and sometimes transform us. They affect our lives at various touchpoints.
Good to know who they are and what they are up to.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, The High and Mighty: Power List 2018; April 30, 2018.)