From Shaheen Bagh 'dadi' Bilkis to Narendra Modi, five Indians grace Time's most influential list

From shock to scorn, irritation to indignation, social media saw an outpouring of emotion after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shaheen Bagh protester Bilkis, actor Ayushmann Khurrana, professor Ravindra Gupta and Google's Sundar Pichai were named, for varied reasons, on Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list.

Narendra Modi

Modi, who made the list for the fourth time since taking office as prime minister in 2014, previously missed out appearing in the 2018 and 2019 editions.

Much to the displeasure of the prime minister's backers on social media and to the delight of his critics, the Time piece, written by editor-at-large Karl Vick, offered a scathing critique of the man, who has, without question, occupied centrestage in Indian politics since his ascent on the national scene.

"India has been the world’s largest democracy for more than seven decades. Its population of 1.3 billion includes Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and other religious sects. All have abided in India, which the Dalai Lama (who has spent most of his life in refuge there) has lauded as an example of harmony and stability," Vick wrote.

"Narendra Modi has brought all that into doubt. Though almost all of India’s prime ministers have come from the nearly 80% of the population that is Hindu, only Modi has governed as if no one else matters. First elected on a populist promise of empowerment, his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rejected not only elitism but also pluralism, specifically targeting India’s Muslims. The crucible of the pandemic became a pretense for stifling dissent. And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow" the piece ended.

Bilkis

Meanwhile, 82-year old Bilkis, who was on the forefront of protests against Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh with thousands of other women late last year and earlier this year, also received the nod from Time.

Unsurprisingly, the Dadi of Shaheen Bagh's appearance on the list elicited a mix response on social media with some describing the grandmother as "a hero" and a "warrior for justice" and others taking the magazine to task and even calling for a boycott.

"When I first met Bilkis, she sat in the midst of a crowd, surrounded by young women who were protesting with placards displaying verses of revolution. With prayer beads in one hand and the national flag in the other, Bilkis became the voice of the marginalized in India, an 82-year-old who would sit at a protest site from 8 am to midnight," the profile, penned by journalist Rana Ayyub, read.

“I will sit here till blood stops flowing in my veins so the children of this country and the world breathe the air of justice and equality,” Bilkis told Ayyub.

Incidentally, her name appears on the list just two days after the Supreme Court, reserving its verdict on a batch of pleas against the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests which led to blocking of a road in Shaheen Bagh in December, observed that there cannot be a "universal policy" on right to protest and possible curbs as the situation may vary from case to case.

Ayushmann Khurrana

Ayushmann Khurrana, reacting to his appearance on the list, said he is humbled by the recognition and that he has always aimed to bring a positive change in society through cinema. Indeed, the 36-year-old, who made his acting debut in 2012 with the film Vicky Donor, has carved out a niche for himself with a string of hits and his progressive brand of cinema.

Deepika Padukone, who herself graced the list in 2018, and who finds herself summoned by the Narcotics Control Bureau, penned Khurana's profile. 

"I remember Ayushmann Khurrana vividly from his debut film, Vicky Donor. He had, of course, been a part of the entertainment industry in various other ways for several years before that, but the reason you and I talk about him today is because of the impact he has been able to create through memorable films and iconic characters. Where male protagonist roles often fall into the trap of stereotypical masculinity, Ayushmann has successfully and convincingly transformed into characters who challenge those very stereotypes," Padukone wrote.

"In India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, only a tiny percentage of people see their dreams come alive, and Ayushmann Khurrana is one of them. You're probably wondering, How? Talent and hard work. Sure, that goes without saying. But more important, patience, perseverance and fearlessness. A little insight for those who dare to dream."

Professor Ravindra Gupta

Ravindra Gupta, an HIV biologist of Indian-origin, is a professor of Clinical Microbiology and Wellcome trust Senior fellow in Clinical Science at The University of Cambridge and faculty at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa.

Gupta, in March 2019, created history after achieving a  sustained remission from HIV-1 (the virus that causes AIDS) in a patient following an 'unrelated' stem cell transplant.

Adam Castillejo, then known only as the "London patient", is only the second person in history to be functionally cured of HIV, wrote about Gupta for Time,

"When I was first introduced to Gupta, I was pleasantly surprised. He was thoughtful and compassionate, and his accomplishments — now including oversight of the stem-cell treatments I received from a donor with a rare gene mutation, which led to my remission — clearly earned him respect and admiration from his colleagues in the HIV research community. Now he has mine, as well," Castillejo wrote.

"Through the years, our partnership has developed and strengthened as Gupta has shared his knowledge and his enthusiasm to find a feasible cure for everyone. He has championed me and empowered me to become an ambassador of hope to millions of people living with HIV around the world," Castillejo concluded.

Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai, the mild-mannered CEO of Google, is a "really nice guy". Just ask the Wall Street Journal.

Pichai, among the glittering array of Silicon Valley's Indian-origin stars (for example Adobe's Shantanu Narayen, Microsoft's Satya Nadella and Mastercard's CEO Ajay Banga), finds himself receiving high praise from the Wall Street titan Jamie Dimon in Time.

"Taking the helm of an iconic American company and positioning it for long-term success in a way that reflects your values is no easy task. Sundar Pichai’s uniquely American story — emigrating from India as a young adult and working his way to become CEO of a $1 trillion corporation—represents the best of what we aspire for our society. He used his natural gifts and strong work ethic to rise through the ranks of Google (now Alphabet) by leading many of their most successful products, such as Drive, Gmail and Maps, and officially took the reins of the company in December," Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, wrote .

"The challenges Sundar faces in his role are among the most important of our time—issues of innovation, privacy, regulation and competition. But his analytical, humble and inclusive leadership will position Google to meet the moment. These are traits the world could use a lot more of in these times."



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