Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla was among the Indians featured in on the Time magazine list of “The 100 most influential people of 2021”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also made it to the list.
Poonawalla’s company manufactures the Covid-19 vaccine, Covishield, which has been jointly developed by the Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Covishield was the first vaccine to get emergency use authorisation in India in January.
The Serum Institute is the largest vaccine manufacturer in terms of doses produced and sold worldwide, according to the company’s website.
Journalist Abhishyant Kidangoor in his piece on Poonawalla wrote that his company’s assurance to provide 1.1 billion, or 110 crore, Covid-19 doses was the “backbone of the plan for global vaccine access” called Covax. The programme was started by various institutions, including the World Health Organization, to provide vaccines to poor countries.
“But over the course of this year, a series of issues – a fire at his plant in Pune, India; trouble securing necessary raw materials; and a vaccine export ban amid India’s second wave of Covid-19 – slowed his ambitions, and left many countries scrambling to find other sources of the vaccines,” Kidangoor wrote.
The journalist added that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet and Poonawalla could help still help end it.
“The Serum Institute has almost doubled production of Covid-19 vaccines since May and is adding newer vaccines – including Novavax and Russia’s Sputnik V – to its portfolio in the coming months,” he wrote.
Kidangoor added: “Whether Poonawalla can right the ship this time will determine which side of history he falls on – and, more importantly, how quickly the world emerges from the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was also featured in the Time magazine’s 2020 list, made it this year too. Similar to 2020, his inclusion in this year’s list is partly based on his government’s targeting of Muslims and is marred with criticism.
“In addition to eroding the rights of India’s Muslim minority, Modi’s government has imprisoned and intimidated journalists who shine a light on its abuses and has passed laws crippling India’s thousands of NGOs and advocacy groups,” Journalist and CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria wrote. “It was responsible for 70% of Internet shutdowns on the planet in 2020.”
Zakaria also pointed out that the Modi government has mishandled the coronavirus pandemic and the toll in the country due to the infection was estimated to be much higher than the official count.
The journalist also pointed to two reports concluding that India has moved away from democracy and turned into an “electoral autocracy”. “Modi must decide if that is what he wants as his legacy,” he said.
But Zakaria placed Modi among the three pivotal leaders of the country, including former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. He said that Modi has dominated the country’s politics like no one since Nehru and Gandhi.
Journalist Barkha Dutt, who wrote about West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, called her the “face of fierceness” in Indian politics.
“On May 2 [when Assembly poll results were announced], she stood like a fortress against the expansionist ambition of Narendra Modi, a seemingly invincible prime minister, when she retained her role of chief minister of West Bengal in the state’s assembly elections, despite the money and men of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,” Dutt wrote.
Banerjee’s party, the Trinamool Congress, won 213 of the 294 seats in the state Assembly elections. The BJP had managed to win only 77 constituencies.
Dutt said that Banerjee, unlike other women politicians, has never been presented as someone’s wife, mother, daughter or partner and that she came from abject poverty.
“Of Banerjee, it is said, she doesn’t lead her party, the Trinamool Congress – she is the party,” the journalist wrote. “The street-fighter spirit and self-made life in a patriarchal culture set her apart.”
She also said that Banerjee would play a pivotal role if Opposition parties come together to counter Modi.
The Time’s list also featured United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Manjusha P Kulkarni, the executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. Both of them are of Indian origin.
Harris was praised by fellow Democrat and Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
“There was joy in the air, not just because Kamala Harris was the first woman and first Black person and first Asian person to become Vice President, but because the country saw what Joe Biden knew: that Kamala Harris was the best,” Pelosi wrote.
Kulkarni was featured in the list along with San Francisco State University professor Russell Jeung and Chinese for Affirmative Action co-executive director Cynthia Choi for raising awareness about violence against Asians through their organisation called Stop AAPI Hate.
“Stop AAPI Hate has become not only an invaluable resource for the public to understand the realities of anti-Asian racism, but also a major platform for finding community-based solutions to combat hate,” author and poet Cathy Park Wong wrote.