It’s only fitting that we start with the president of the ruling Indian National Congress party and arguably the most influencial woman in India today; in fact, according to Forbes Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women of 2008, Sonia is the 21st most powerful woman in the world.
An Italian by birth and widow of the late PM Rajiv Gandhi, a grieving Sonia cut herself off from public life after the assassination of her husband in 1991. She rebuffed repeated entreaties from Congress officials to enter the political arena until 1997, a year after the party lost the national elections and was in a state of utter chaos. In a bid to preserve the crumbling legacy of the Gandhi family, she finally became a primary member of the Indian National Congress and within three months of joining, was party president. Having steered her way into Indian public and political life, there was no looking back — Sonia led her party to victory in the national polls in 2004. And when controversy arose over the country having a prime minister of non-Indian origin, she stepped aside and recommended renowned economist and present PM Manmohan Singh, who is known to defer to her in all matters.
Life lesson from Sonia:
The greater good should take precedent over your own ambitions.
Meet the Indian woman who beat Sonia Gandhi and a host of other influential ladies from around the world to bag third position on Forbes’ Top 100 Most Powerful Women of 2008 list — CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi. This business-minded lady has been in the boss’ chair since 2006 and has been in the news lately for her aggressive measures to help PepsiCo brave the economic downturn. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Indian Government in 2007 and also serves on the board of organisations like Motorola, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the International Rescue Committee, among others. And oh yes, she’s married and has two daughters as well.
Life lesson from Indra:
You’ll reach the top if you have what it takes — and make sure to keep climbing.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Ash is an achiever if ever there was one. From winning the Miss World pageant in 1994 to forging a successful acting career in Bollywood to becoming the face of the Indian film industry in Hollywood, this gal has been there and done it all. Ash was the first Indian actress to serve on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival, the second film personality (after her father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan) to have a likeness of her displayed in London’s Madame Toussaud’s Museum and has even had a special variety of tulips named after her in the Netherlands. As for detractors and controversy, she’s had her share of those too, but always prefers to keep her personal life private and remain gracious in the face of criticism.
Life lesson from Aishwarya:
Take criticism in your stride and meet harsh words with silence – let your accomplishments speak for you
Love her or hate her, you can’t ignore politician Mayawati. The CM of Uttar Pradesh started life off in humble surroundings, the daughter of a Dalit telecommunications clerk in Delhi. Securing bachelor’s degrees in Law and Education, she became a teacher before joining the Bahunjan Samaj Party in 1984 and switching to fulltime politics. The BSP, which sought to represent the Dalits, has become a political force to be reckoned with in the last few years and many are of the opinion that she will be the nation’s next prime minister. Today, Mayawati is the highest income tax-paying politician in India, shelling out Rs 26 crore per year and is closing in on Sonia Gandhi on Forbes’ list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women – she weighed in at number 59 as of 2008.
Life lesson from Mayawati:
Turn your perceived weaknesses into strengths; the lower down you start, the higher you’ll climb.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Kiran was the country’s richest woman as of 2004, with an estimated net worth of Rs 2,100 crore. This gutsy lady was the daughter of a master brewer with United Breweries and although she initially considered following in her father’s footsteps, fate had other things in store for her. Instead of opting for the beer industry, Kiran founded her biopharmaceutical company Biocon in her garage back in 1978, with a capital of Rs 10,000 and today, it is India’s biggest biopharmaceutical organisation. Cheers to that!
Life lesson from Kiran:
It’s better to forge your own path rather than tread one laid down by others.
The highest ranked Indian female tennis player ever (as high as number 27 in singles and 18 in doubles), the first Indian woman to be seeded in a Grand Slam tournament, the first Indian woman to make it to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament — and she’s only 22! Sania changed the face of Indian tennis and has created an identity for herself at par with some of the most famous sports personalities in the world. She turned professional at 18 and is probably India’s best-known female sports personality. Way to go!
Life lesson from Sania:
Strive to break not only others’ records, but your own too.
All hail the nation’s first ever woman president! President Patil was also the first ever lady governor of Rajasthan and alongside her political career, she is well-known for her philanthropic ventures. She founded the Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, which runs several schools and colleges in Jalgaon and Mumbai; the Shram Sadhana Trust that runs women’s hostels in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune; an engineering college in Jalgaon; a cooperative sugar factory, Sant Muktabai Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana; and the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari cooperative bank. While her detractors claim that she does not match up to predecessor Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and she has had her share of controversies, it cannot be denied President Patil is one of the nation’s most influential women.
Life lesson from President Patil:
Make time for a worthy cause no matter what other responsibilities you shoulder.