As with every year, 2019 had its fair share of people making news for their achievements, triumphs, idiosyncrasies, failures and follies. 'India Global Business' editors have curated this list of people who they felt deserved the “newsmaker” tag for impacting policy and uniquely highlighting global opportunities and challenges. We left out some of the obvious newsmakers - Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson - and spread our net wider to search for people who in some way or other have influenced for good (or otherwise) India's march on the world stage.
Prior to the 2019 general elections in India, BJP President Amit Shah revelled in his role as a backroom boy. He did feature regularly in Indian newspapers and on Indian television channels but was hardly known outside the country. That changed when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed Shah as his Home Minister. In his new role, Shah has piloted two important - and in the eyes of the Western media, controversial - legislations that effectively defanged Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that granted special status to Jammu & Kashmir and also oversaw the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act that grants citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries.
Even more than the passage of these legislations themselves, it was the follow-up measures to prevent violence in J&K, including placing restrictions on the assembly of people, that got him a lot of media coverage in the West. Ironically, this same J&K move made him a hero in India, second in profile and power only to the Prime Minister. Shah sits on all the powerful cabinet committees, and takes a special interest in Economic matters, like no previous Indian Home Minister.
It's not very often that a Forbes-listed billionaire finds himself essaying the role of the proverbial David against Goliath. But that is exactly how the battle of attrition between the Tata Group, India's largest and most valuable business house and the UK's largest private sector employer, and its former Chairman Cyrus Mistry is playing out. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) recently ruled his removal in October 2016 as illegal and ordered his reinstatement as Chairman of the Tata Group. It also held as illegal the decision to convert Tata Sons into a private company. Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata's sprawling global empire, and the Tata Trusts, which own two-thirds of the holding company, have said they will appeal the NCLAT orders before the Supreme Court. But regardless of the outcome, this case is expected to become a landmark in the field of corporate governance and the rights of minority shareholders. And irrespective of whether he returns at the helm of the Tata Group, Mistry will go down in the annals of India's corporate jurisprudence as the David that took on a Goliath and won.
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg has been fairly well known in Europe since she began her “School Strike for Climate Change” movement outside the Swedish Parliament in August 2018 but she really emerged as a global newsmaker with her now famous “You have stolen my dreams... how dare you...” speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September 2019. But this wasn't her first brush with international fame and acclaim. In May 2019, she was featured on the cover of Time. The magazine also named her among the 100 Most Influential People and the youngest individual Time Person of the Year. Given India's own young population and its challenges with climate change, this young star resonates with India's own growing global leadership in this arena.
He promised ideological purity to the faithful but couldn't win the trust of others. Jeremy Corbyn is possibly the most far-left leader of the Labour Party in decades. His rhetoric both in the run-up to the elections and even before harked back to a politics that Britain hasn't seen in more than a generation - with talk of nationalising key industries, levying higher taxes on the rich and providing several public services free. But his uncompromising ideologically driven stance on several important issues, including Kashmir, turned away many traditional Labour support groups. Corbyn's Kashmir rhetoric resulted in the socially influential, culturally assimilated and well-to-do Indian diaspora drifting away from their traditional Labour moorings. This is believed to be one of the important contributing factors to the party's worst electoral showing since 1935. The first-ever India Inc. survey of British Indian voter intentions, in collaboration with 0ptimus, conducted in November 2019, confirmed their dealignment from the UK's Labour Party.
Muthayya Vanitha and Ritu Karidhal
India's partially successful moon mission Chandrayaan-2 was, to paraphrase, Neil Armstrong, “a small step for science, a giant leap for women”. Regardless of how history will judge the mission, it has already made history - it's the first space mission with an all-woman leadership team.
Project Director Muthayya Vanitha, an electronics engineer, and Mission Director Ritu Karidhal, an aerospace engineer, who were also involved in India′s first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, and the country's Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013, have already entered popular folklore in India and have become the latest role models for aspiring women scientists not only in India but all over the world.
She began the year as India's first full-time woman Defence Minister and, following the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, was appointed India's first full-time woman Finance Minister. These alone gave her lots of media coverage but were not the only reasons why she has remained in the news. As the Indian economy, following in the footsteps of the world, slowed down, all eyes were on her first Budget, which received a mixed response from experts and analysts.
But a number of bold steps, such as massive cuts in corporate tax rates to 25.17 per cent for existing companies and 17.01 per cent for new ones - making Indian tax rates competitive vis-à-vis its South East Asian peers - and a considerable easing of FDI norms and other business rules have kept her in the news round the year. As India's GDP continues to dip, Sitharaman's work is certainly cut out in 2020.
Priti Patel made history earlier this year when she became the first woman from an ethnic minority in Britain to be appointed Home Secretary. First elected to the British Parliament in 2010, she has risen dramatically through the Conservative ranks, being appointed Minister of State for Employment by David Cameron in 2015 and then International Development Secretary by Theresa May before her promotion to her current position. She was a member of the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee that recently released a damning report that warned that the UK was falling behind in the race to engage with India. Patel will be pivotal in shaping the UK's post-Brexit relationship with India.
India's Minister for Law & Justice, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology has been in the news because of his single-minded determination to ensure that Indians remain owners of the data they generate. He recently piloted the Personal Data Protection Bill through the Indian Cabinet, much to the chagrin of large US technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Mastercard and others that have lobbied hard against Indian data localisation rules on the grounds that the requirement of storing data locally would increase costs, sometimes prohibitively, hurt both local and foreign companies and “negatively impact the flow of foreign investments”.
These companies aren't likely to simply accept the new rules, when they become law, and fade away. So, this issue alone will keep Prasad in the news well into the foreseeable future.
This soft-spoken alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur made a splash when Google Co-Founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin relinquished control of the company they had co-founded more than two decades ago and handed over the reins of parent company Alphabet to him. This was a crowning moment for Pichai, but it wasn't entirely free of controversy. The job came with the grant of $240 million in stocks that are tied to performance and will vest over the next three years. This immediately reopened the debate in the US about excessive C-suite pay scales.