September 2nd, 2007

I don’t know who is to blame for this, Forbes for sloppy fact-checking or the NZ Herald for bad sub-editing, but anyway, check out this list of the 10 most powerful women in the world, and spot the mistake.

That’s right! Coming in at Number Six is:

Sonia Gandhi, President of India.

Oops! The real president of India is a woman, but not Sonia Gandhi. Her name is Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil. I’m not sure what the Smt. means, but it looks like a title. Can anyone enlighten me?

Sonia Gandhi  is president of the Indian National Congress, and if I remember rightly, she gave up the chance to become prime minister of India, allowing Manmohan Singh to take that post, because she felt perhaps India wasn’t quite ready for a foreign-born woman to serve as prime minister. Interestingly enough, according to the biography on her website, she is by no means the first woman of foreign origin to serve as head of the Indian National Congress. Third, in fact, after Annie Beasant and Nelli Sengupta. And being a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family means she has a pretty impressive political heritage behind her. 

Now all of this begs the question: Who was meant to occupy sixth place in that list of the world’s ten most powerful women? Pratibha Devisingh Patil, President of India, or Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress? Well, I know precious little about Indian politics or India’s system of government, but it seems to be a parliamentary democracy with the prime minister as head of government and the president, the head of state, playing a mostly ceremonial role, somewhat similar to Ireland or Germany (perhaps Germany is a better comparison, with its federal system), so it’s easy to assume that the entry for sixth place should have read “Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress”. But assumptions have this nasty habit of leading to mistakes and embarrassment. Ah, but wait, this Guardian article seems to confirm that it was the NZ Herald’s sloppy sub-editing that is to blame for this mix-up, and that in fact sixth place does belong to Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress.

And if you’re foolish enough to click over to page one of that NZ Herald article, you will have the dubious pleasure of reading that Helen Clark is the world’s thirty eighth most powerful woman (which ain’t too bad a ranking for somebody from a little island at the end of the world, really) but that sixty-odd percent of Australians don’t know who she is, and then (and this is where the dubious pleasure comes in) the usual verbal wankery that gets vomitted out whenever the Kiwi press compares us to our big brother next door, complete with a paraphrase of Rob Muldoon’s classic line about Kiwis who move to Australia: Well, they improve the national IQ of both countries.

But given that big huge glaring, blundering factual error in the NZ Herald’s version of Forbes’ top 10 most powerful women, I have to wonder if the “brain drain” is having a less positive effect on New Zealand’s national IQ….

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