8. Sharad Pawar, 68
Union Agriculture Minister and NCP Chief
He and his group of 11 MPs pack in more clout in the UPA than the numbers show. Pawar has the most phone numbers across party lines on his speed dial. Close to the PM,he has stood by the government at critical junctures,supporting reforms in different sectors and playing negotiator. As former BCCI chief and president-elect of ICC,the reins of Indian cricket are firmly in his hands. He has never disguised his prime ministerial ambition.
When the Congress sought to blame him for the agrarian crisis,Pawar responded by expanding the NCP base in Maharashtra,Meghalaya,Nagaland,Kerala,and Goa,often at the cost of the Congress.
This election,the NCP chief is demanding 41 Lok Sabha seats. The next coalition could offer him a big opportunity.
9. P Chidambaram, 63
Union Home Minister
By delivering the goods on his new assignment,Home Minister P. Chidambaram has acquired a newfound influence in the government and in the Congress. In less than two months,he has managed to change the discourse on terrorism,with the governments response to the Mumbai attacks getting widespread public support.
Immediately after taking charge of the Home Ministry,he made all the intelligence agencies attend his morning meetings and ensured they work together to avoid a repeat of the 26/11 attacks. All agencies were told unequivocally that they would be held responsible for any lapses.
In an election year,Chidambaram is likely to be consulted for all major decisions. Should the UPA return to power,he is bound to get a plum portfolio.
10. Narendra Modi, 58
Gujarat Chief Minister
The face of hard Hindutva,he has pioneered the idea of pro-incumbency by playing up development and re-jigging the list of aspirants for the Assembly in the 2007 Gujarat elections. Having showcased Gujarat as a double-digit growth lab,Modi is set to be the BJPs ideology-governance poster-boy in the run-up to the general elections.
Industry captains Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal batted for him as the next leader of the country and Advani hinted he would like Modi to be his successor.
In a post-Advani BJP,he has a strong chance of being projected as prime ministerial candidate. But with the Gujarat riots continuing to haunt him,how he gets the BJPs allies to say yes to his candidature could be his biggest political test.
11. Ratan Tata , 72
He heads a corporate empire that enjoys more respect and public trust than any group from India Inc. Since 2000,he has made 23 acquisitions,including the $12 billion takeover of British steel company Corus (the largest overseas takeover by an Indian company) and the $2.3 billion purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. He has turned the group into a 98-company leviathan that includes the worlds second largest tea business (Tata Tea) and Asias largest software company (Tata Consultancy Services).
When Mamata Banerjee laid siege to the Nano plant in West Bengal,Tata sealed a deal with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to get 1,100 acres of land at Sanand.
The Nano,expected to hit the market this year,will redefine the auto industry in a time of crisis.