July 04, 2020
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Pop Influenza: Gone Viral

A few men and women who have cast a spell on the Indian mind. It’s a vote of the people, by the people, for these individuals.

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Pop Influenza: Gone Viral
“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”

—Stephen King

It isn’t fame or a bold-faced name. It isn’t a bank balance or a Rolls Royce. It isn’t about flaunting it if you have it. So what is influence, really? It’s perhaps a bit like beauty, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. What’s influence to you may be not to the guy next to you. What seemed influential to you a moment ago may not seem so a moment from now.

A jholawala social worker who secures a school admission for a slum-dweller’s daughter may be ‘influential’ in the eyes of the lucky parents. Just as a lobbyist with insiders on her speed dial gets an industrialist to press flesh with the honourable minister. Amorphous and abstract, influence is immeasurable, even ephemeral.

Though the words are sometimes taken in the same breath, in many ways, influence is unlike the elixir of all the ages: power. Power has a clear, unidirectional trajectory. We know where it flows from and from whom. We know who is on top and who is down below. It is clear; it shouts. Influence, on the other hand, is soft power. It isn’t top-down, it isn’t homogeneous, and it isn’t one-way. Power is like big media, influence is social. Power shouts; influence shouts silently.

Which is what sparked this interactive effort to track India’s Most Influential: to put a number, a name, a rank to this somewhat indescribable idea. As perceived by the people.

From a master-list Outlook reporters, opinion-makers and observers came up with, five people from each of the 14 large states were selected by the editorial team. There was a conscious effort to select the contenders from as many varied fields as possible. The chief ministers of the states were deliberately kept out of the shortlist to avoid skewing the ranking.

Using the shortlist, a two-way voting process began. The names of the top five contenders were advertised in select newspapers in each of these states to decide who were seen as the most influential people in those states. Simultaneously, readers could cast their vote online at our website or by placing a ‘missed call’ (where a caller makes a missed call to a specific number assigned to a person to vote for him or her). The polling was open for three weeks.

In all, 6,05,660 votes came in to decide India’s Most Influential. The results are at once predictable in some states but completely unexpected in others. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, superstar-tur­ned-politician Chiranjeevi trumps media baron Ramoji Rao by a whisker, while the controversial godman Baba Sacha Sauda Ram Rahim comes close to being the most influential in Punjab. There are three filmstars (Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal and Rajnikanth) and two cricketers (Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sourav Ganguly) chosen as the most influential in their respective states.

Like all interactive initiatives involving the social media, these results are far from the definite article. It’s possible that followers or fan clubs of actors, cricketers or godmen acted in a concerted manner to prop up their icons, which is always a hazard in an online/phone poll. We did discount votes or calls which came in a deluge on a particular day but the results in such contests will always be skewed towards ‘bulk polling’. But despite its shortcomings, the poll results are indicative of how influence is perceived. In fact, there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere for those who didn’t make the cut.


The Meeting Of Minds

Fourteen people, 14 states. The names that jog the mind the most in this great republic of ours.

Arvind Kejriwal Ex-Anna hand has a party now. Can Aam Aadmi do it?   Chiranjeevi The Telugu superstar hasn’t fired in political theatre

Mohanlal Malayalam film superstar is now at a crossroads   Badruddin Ajmal In Assam, there’s no one more controversial

Sachin Pilot The minister of corporate affairs is big on accountability   Sourav Ganguly Indian cricket’s rise started with him. Now it’s TV punditry.

Amit Shah There are no fake encounters for this man   Amitabh Bachchan The hardest working old man in Bollywood

M.S. Dhoni He’s got every cricket trophy worth having. What next?    Mayawati Queen of the Dalits needs to extend her horizons

N.R. Narayana Murthy He set up India’s biggest IT story. Now he must save it.    Rajnikanth When he says it once, it’s like he said it a 1,000 times

Sukhbir S. Badal The CM’s son is all set to take up the mantle   Uma Bharati Rehabilitated, the firebrand sadhvi is on the prowl again

Participating newspapers: Lokmat (Maharashtra), Bartaman (West Bengal), Dainik Jagran (UP), Rajasthan Patrika (Rajasthan and MP), Mathrubhoomi (Kerala), Vaartha (AP)

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