Sonia, Shahrukh in Newsweek’s powerful-50 list

Sonia, Shahrukh in Newsweek’s powerful-50 list

New York: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan have been ranked among the 50 most powerful people in the world by the prestigious US-based magazine Newsweek magazine in a list topped by President- elect Barack Obama.

Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who controls the the country’s nuclear weapons, is placed 20th on the list of the global “power elite" at the beginning of 2009 in the magazine’s January issue.

Obama, who scripted history by becoming the first black-American to be voted to the White House, is followed by Chinese President Hu Jintao, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Markel and powerful Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A surprise inclusion in the list, which the magazine admits is subjective, is Osama bin Laden, whom the Newsweek describes as “global terrorist." North Korean dictator Jim Jong II also finds a place in the list.

Placing Sonia Gandhi at 17th spot, the magazine says though Indian political scene is riven by factions, Congress remains the strongest national force and rules unchallenged. “In the world’s largest democracy, she is the queen."

The magazine describes Shahrukh Khan, who occupies 41st spot, as the ‘King of Bollywood.’

“It’s not just that his (Shahrukh Khan’s) romantic flicks make gazillions it’s where those gazillions come from. Khan is huge in the Muslim world, even in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the mullahs ban his films. (The movies thrive on the black market.)

“Their main appeal is certainly the song-and-dance numbers, but Khan (a Muslim married to a Hindu) makes devoutly secular films where love trounces bigotry," the magazine says, adding that Sonia Gandhi gives Khan’s DVDs to visitors, especially Muslim ones. “Here’s hoping tolerance will leap from reel life to real life."

On Kayani, it says, that in theory this mumbling chain-smoking Pakistan army chief answers to President Asif Ali Zardari. But Kayani and his troops remain the dominant power in what could be the most dangerous country in the world, it adds.

“He’s responsible for Pakistan’s nukes; for the battle against Al-Qaeda and its tribal allies along the Afghan border; and for managing tensions with neighbour India," the magazine stresses, noting that so far, his army has kept itself out of politics and seems focused on the battle against ‘jihadists´.

“In the wake of the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Kayani stood firm on Pakistan’s sovereignty while also taking measures against the alleged sponsors of the outrage," it says.

About 47-year-old Obama, it says the presidency of the “intensely charismatic" Democrat, who will be inaugurated on 20 January, will be judged on how he handles the economic crisis that now envelops the US and the world. “For Obama to be remembered as a great President, he has to do nothing less than rescue capitalism."

For bin Laden, who finds 42nd spot, the magazine says the manhunt may not have been successful, but it has driven him far underground. Once a glutton for publicity, he has not shot a new video since September 2007, and no audio message from him has been heard since May 2008, it says.

The magazine quotes knowledgeable Taliban sources as saying that “the Sheikh" - as acolytes call bin Laden - rarely has contact with even his top lieutenants, who are steadily being eliminated: in 2008, at least eight of the 20 most wanted Al-Qaeda operatives died in Predator attacks along the Afghan border.

Awarding Chinese President Hu second place after Obama, Newsweek says he is a guy “you wouldn’t think twice about cautious, colourless and corporate and in the past, he has lost spotlight to other world leaders with bigger egos and sharper elbows."

“But to underestimate Hu would be a monumental error. His position as China’s president makes him CEO of a financial juggernaut that’s projected to post $280 billion trade surplus this year.

“While the rest of the world plunges deeper into recession, Hu the Humble is emerging as the one who is holding the lifeline," it says.

The economic crisis and market meltdown has got “Economic Triumvirate" a place among the top ten. They are central bankers: Ben Bernanke of the US Federal Reserve; Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank (ECB); Masaaki Shirakawa of the Bank of Japan; and, to a lesser extent, counterparts in China, India, Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere.

“They are enormously powerful, and in 2009 they may determine whether the global economy avoids calamity," the magazine notes. “Not since the early 1980s, when high inflation plagued many advanced economies, or perhaps the 1930s, has their role been so crucial as global economic growth is slowing to a standstill."

“Economists at Deutsche Bank forecast that the world economy will expand a meager 0.2% in 2009 the worst year since at least 1950. In 2007, growth was almost 5%. Without stronger growth, the slump might feed on itself and fuel economic nationalism,“ the magazine warns.

Giving reasons for placing Kim on the list, Newsweek notes that he is in bad shape after suffering a stroke but still presides over a handful of nuclear weapons, an arsenal of long range missiles and a million-man army.

A weakened leader could in fact feel compelled to prove his toughness by threatening outside world. And in recent weeks Pyongyang has halted its rapprochement with South Korea and “torpedoed" talks aimed at getting it to give up its nuclear weapons. “Whether strong or weak, he’s still dangerous," it observes.

Others on the list include the Dalai Lama, former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, Iranian strongman Ayatollah Ali Khemenei, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, American General David Petraeus, Iraqi leader Nuri al-Maliki, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Pope Benedict XVI, Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch and popular show host Oprah Winfrey.