William J Antholis, Managing Director of The Brookings Institution, on March 16, 2012 wrote the following about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the institute's website: "I came away thinking that this was a man America needed to know better. He may never be able to move past his role in the 2002 riots. But he is a talented and effective political leader, and will continue pushing New Delhi and not following... He is wrestling with major global challenges, with all the complexities that implies for a man with strong nationalist convictions. One thing is certain- he will continue to be a force in Indian politics." The endorsement from the oldest and one of the most powerful think-tanks in Washington suggested the growing recognition Narendra Modi had begun to enjoy in the US, a country which, so far, has been cautious in its stand on the controversial leader.
Then Modi scored a double whammy of sorts - first appearing on the cover of the India edition of the prestigious Time magazine a month ago and now making it to the Time's shortlist of 200 most influential people in the world, out of which 100 names would be pulled out for the magazine's next edition. While it is certain that the indomitable Modi will make it to the Top 100, what seems to be a possibility now is him making to the top of it. That the BJP poster boy commands a huge online fan following is evident from the results of the poll so far. At the time this piece was written, he had already commanded almost 87,000 votes, thereby claiming the second slot on the list. With two more days of voting to go and an aggressive PR campaign that Modi & Co run globally, it won't be surprising to see him clinch this race to be the most influential person in the world. The only person ahead of the Hindutva icon right now is Erik Martin, General Manager of Reddit.
The question is: with the ruling Congress in disarray, has the US establishment now realised the pragmatism that good business calls for and is now warming up to Narendra Modi who many want as the future PM of the country? The Time annual list - the defining barometer of our times, though diminishing in its influence and respect - still manages to make news, and influence public opinion in the US. The magazine's website has asked its readers to cast their votes for the leaders, icons and heroes they think are currently the most influential in the world. The list with 200 names has five Indians in it: Vidya Balan, Anna Hazare, Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi and Sachin Tendulkar (in the order of their appearance on the list).
Narendra Modi's profile in the Time poll describes the 61-year-old leader as "the most polarizing figure in Indian politics" who despite being "in the running to be India's next Prime Minister... remains associated with the ugly legacy of the 2002 Gujarat riots, where, under his watch, thousands died in an anti-Muslim pogrom." However, since he commands global awe and admiration as the man who transformed Gujarat into an economic powerhouse, Modi, for Americans, remains a figure to be engaged with. APCO Worldwide is one of the PR and lobbying agencies hired by Modi to sell his image as well as the state he has been ruling for more than a decade now in US.
Having said that, one also expects the "most polarizing figure in Indian politics" to encourage a strong anti-Modi campaign too. Social networking sites are already abuzz with outrage over the American magazine's growing fondness for the Hindutva icon. There is a Vote Modi Out campaign being run by activists, reflected in more than 32,000 people voting him out of the race. It should be noted that it was because of these activists that the Gujarat CM was refused a visa to the US in 2005, thereby making him the first elected leader in India to be denied a US visa. Soon after the Modi cover story appeared in Time, veteran BJP leader L K Advani in his blog pointed at the irony of the US denying visa to the Gujarat CM while its leading magazine endorsing him as a potential Prime Minister of India.
The other Indians in the Time list have a far less contentious legacy to defend. Vidya Balan tops the list among the Indians, and deservedly so. 2011 has been, in many ways, Vidya's year. "She's more popular than ever, a Bollywood icon for the knowing woman of the new India," says the magazine. Riding on the success of The Dirty Picture among her other recent hits, the Time mention must be another high for the talented actress. "Do Bollywood heroines have sex? Thanks to Balan, the answer is finally yes, yes, yes", says Time. The actress has garnered around 11000 votes so far.
Anna Hazare makes it to the list too. The veteran anti-corruption crusader is described by the magazine as the "diminutive septuagenarian (who) channeled frustration across India over corruption, inspiring mass protests that brought the government virtually to its knees." With barely 1300-plus votes in his favour, the question now is whether he makes it to the Top 100 or not.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is next on the Time list. "He's done what many considered impossible by introducing good governance, social equity and economic growth to Bihar, an Indian state that was once an emblem of the worst of Indian corruption, poverty and brutality. His success (and re-election) has introduced a revolutionary new idea to Indian politics: that delivering basic services to the poor is as effective a political strategy as promising handouts or pandering to religion or caste," lauds the magazine. He is doing better than Anna in the poll - 8000 and counting so far.
The last Indian on the list is the cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. The magazine calls him "cricket's greatest-ever batsman" who, after his 100 hundreds, is "likely to cut loose - a terrifying prospect for opponents, but a terrific one for lovers of the sport." With barely 7500-plus votes though, Tendulkar's cricket-crazy and internet-savvy fans have a lot of work at hand to make sure their 'god' makes it to yet another 100.
The official voting on the Time poll ends on Friday, April 6 and the results will be revealed on the magazine's website on Tuesday, April 17.