The Most Powerful Indians in 2017, 1 to 50: Narendra Modi tops, Yogi Adityanath enters list

New Delhi: Take a look at The Indian Express power list of 2016-17 not just to see who are the most powerful 100 in this country of a billion plus. Look at it, also, to get a sense of how, over the past year, power has changed hands — and how power itself has changed.
To take the second change first, which is also the context in which the first — the movement of the powerful — is to be tracked: More than any other in recent times, the past year has framed and sharpened an absence in India’s liberal democratic imagination.
Liberal democracy in India has always seemed ill-trained in the art of separation that produces a check and balance on power, and is also a way of fragmenting it. Democracy in India doesn’t ask itself the question, at least not often enough, and not with enough sophistication: What are the bases of different institutions? What are the different kinds of power?
It is in this space of unasked questions that the steep climb and precipitous fall of individuals in the IE power list tells a story, of course.
Large meanings can also be prised from the small shifts.
The top three of 2016-17 remain the same as in 2015-16 — Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat — but with a difference. While Modi remains numero uno, Shah trades places with Bhagwat. The moving up of Shah, the stepping down of Bhagwat, if only by a rung each, speaks of an unfolding realignment within the Sangh Parivar — the dramatic electoral successes of the Modi-Shah election machine are helping them pull ahead of not just their opponents and rivals but also their friends.
The year 2015-2016 was when the political Opposition struck back at the BJP dominance established by its 282-seat triumph in 2014 — first Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP routed the BJP in Delhi, then the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad Mahagathbandhan trounced it in Bihar.
It was also the year when the BJP’s political project seemed challenged by events and stories outside the political arena that snowballed, acquired power, became writ large — the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri over rumors of beef in September 2015, the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula at the Hyderabad University campus in January 2016. This was followed by the spreading protests against the arrest of students in JNU on charges of sedition, which also stoked a wide and vibrant debate on the meaning of nationalism.
Yet, in 2017, that agitation and those debates seem frayed and faded already. Their dramatis personae, like the fiery JNU student leaders, are no longer prominent on the stage. They have been relegated by the inevitable return to business-as-usual, yes, but also by the sound and spectacle of the BJP’s electoral victories, especially and most recently in Uttar Pradesh.
Unsurprising, then, that a host of Opposition leaders move down the power list: Arvind Kejriwal slips from No. 8 to 33, Mayawati who was at 30 last year is now at 50, and Lalu Prasad is down from 26 to 42.
The Gandhis, Sonia and Rahul, may not show as great a fall — from 5 to 9 and from 9 to 10, respectively. But there is a settled stolid dullness to their ranking, especially when you contrast it with the blistering trajectory of Yogi Adityanath, a new entrant at No. 8, or Himanta Biswa Sarma who left the Congress to become powerful in the BJP, and who is also a new entry in the list, at 37.
Nitish Kumar, who had seemed for a while last year to be the emerging rallying point for anti-BJP forces, has receded only from 12 to 13, but in his case, the rungs he hasn’t climbed are more telling.
All those who are on the list are there because of the individuals that they are and because of the institutions and offices that they represent. But the rise in the list of Chief Justice Khehar, from 41 to 4, and the entry of Dipak Misra at 15 and Justice Lodha at 78, owes more to their institution — the judiciary — at a time when other checks and balances on concentrated executive power are waning.

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