New York: Congress party president Sonia Gandhi was on Wednesday ranked the sixth most powerful woman in the world, ahead of US First Lady Michelle Obama, by Forbes magazine in its list of 100 influential women, which was topped by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Gandhi, 65, is among the five Indian women who have been named in the 'World's 100 Most Powerful Women' list released by Forbes on Wednesday. The UPA chairperson was ranked 7th last year.
Giving Gandhi company is Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo Indra Nooyi who was ranked at 12th followed by Cisco Systems Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior at 58th place, ICICI Bank Managing Director and CEO Chanda Kochhar at 59th and Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw at 80th rank.
Forbes said Gandhi the "one-time heir to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty", successfully underwent a surgery last year and was "back in fighting spirit last month when she publicly reprimanded a fellow parliamentarian during session who had criticised her party's handling of this summer's rioting in Assam."
The longest serving chief in the Congress party's history, Gandhi has had to defend herself and the party after a spate of key assembly elections this year, blaming the drubbing on weak candidates and state party organisations.
"Lauded for overseeing heavy economic growth, she is also criticized for tolerating political corruption and failing to forge connections with India's fastest-growing demographic--younger voters," the publication said.
An avid scholar of the arts, Gandhi holds a degree in oil painting conservation.
Merkel occupied the spot of the world's most powerful woman for the second year in a row. Calling her the "Iron Lady" of Europe, Forbes said she is the lead player in the eurozone economic drama that continues to threaten global markets.
"As Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal have teetered on the brink of an economic collapse, she (Merkel) has vowed to do everything in her power to preserve the 17-country European Union," Forbes said.
Merkel has been the German chancellor since 2005, and her recent public approval ratings soared to near 70 per cent --a good sign leading into the general election in the fall of 2013. Merkel is embracing the Internet, and last fall launched a YouTube channel, Die Bundesregierung, where she directly answers citizens' questions, the publication added.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been ranked second in the list, followed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at number three, New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson at 5 and Obama at 7.
Pepsi Co's 56-year-old Indian-origin CEO Nooyi has been ranked 12 in the list. Terming her the "superstar CEO", Forbes said Nooyi last year returned USD 5.6 billion to shareholders, when PepsiCo net revenue grew 14 per cent to USD 66 billion.
"But with gain comes pain: Languishing stock at the snack-and-soda giant and diminishing market share to rival Coca-Cola have put Nooyi in the hot seat," Forbes said.
Noting that "big changes are in the works" at Pepsi Co, Forbes said Nooyi cut three per cent of PepsiCo's global workforce to reduce costs and upped the marketing budget for core brands by USD 500 to USD 600 million.
Nooyi also reshuffled management of top executives, a move that may set up her successor.
Forbes said Cisco's 51-year-old Warrior took on the expanded role as Strategy officer in June, after five years as CTO, and "insiders say the move could indicate she's being groomed for the top spot."
Warrior is responsible for all deals activity as one of the most acquisitive firms in technology reconfigures its business strategy.
Kochhar, 50, the first woman to run ICICI Bank, oversees assets of USD 93 billion, more than 2,750 branches in India and the bank's presence in 19 countries. Kocchar joined ICICI in 1984 straight out of business school and is credited with building the bank's retail arm from scratch. In 2009, she became its youngest CEO at age 47.
"Today she's pursuing a new strategy, prioritising day-to-day banking business through its branches rather than big-ticket deals," Forbes said.
Forbes said Shaw, 59 is India's first biotech entrepreneur, who founded Biocon in 1978 when she was just 25- years-old.
Since then Biocon has become only the second Indian firm to list a one billion dollar IPO on its first day of trading and is currently the country's 11th largest pharmaceutical company with a market capitalisation of USD 66.8 billion.
Among the other power women making it to list is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at number 10, media mogul Oprah Winfrey at 11, singer Lady Gaga at rank 14, Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi (19), newly appointed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (21), UK's Queen Elizabeth (26), Harvard University President Drew Faust (63), actress Angelina Jolie (66) and British author J K Rowling (78).
In the crucial election year, US First Lady Michelle Obama has been more popular than her husband, Forbes said.
Michelle's positive approval ratings register at 66 per cent while her husband's term average has hovered just below 50 per cent.
"The First Lady keeps a high profile with her mission to end childhood obesity, her commitment to military families and her stylish fashion picks," Forbes said.
Sixteen women enter the list for the first time, including singer Jennifer Lopez, former US Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, Meg Whitman of HP and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo.
"This year's Power Women exert influence in very different ways, and to very different ends, and all with very different impacts on the global community," said Moira Forbes, president of ForbesWoman.
"Whether leading multi-billion-dollar companies, governing countries, shaping the cultural fabric of our lives, or spearheading humanitarian initiatives, collectively these women are changing the planet in profoundly powerful and dynamic ways."