Special Report

50 Most Powerful Leaders of All Time

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

41. Jawaharlal Nehru
> Nation/Territory: India
> Title: Prime Minister
> Time in power/Reign: 1947-1964

Jawaharlal Nehru led the world’s largest democracy in its first years of independence. Before becoming prime minister of India, Nehru was a staunch advocate for Indian autonomy from the British and allied with Mohandas Gandhi. After becoming prime minister, Nehru reluctantly accepted the separation of the Muslim portion of India. He was known for steering India on a path of neutrality, also known as the policy of non-alignment, during the Cold War and kept that position during his time in power until his death in 1964.

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

42. Mao Zedong
> Nation/Territory: China
> Title: Chairman
> Time in power/Reign: 1949-1976

Mao Zedong is the father of the People’s Republic of China. He ruled the world’s most populous nation for 27 years. After leading the communists to victory over the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, he centralized the government. Mao instituted land reform, pushed for increased literacy and greater access to medical care, and advocated for higher status for women. His attempts to dramatically increase industrial and agricultural production, called the “Great Leap Forward,” have been called failures.

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43. Martin Luther King Jr.
> Nation/Territory: United States
> Title: Civil Rights Leader
> Time in power/Reign: 1955-1968

Inspired by the nonviolent philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. led a peaceful movement that advocated for civil rights and justice in the United States. King’s protests and demonstrations were held mostly in the segregated American South, where he was arrested and jailed several times.

His efforts won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and his oratory on behalf of equality and justice are among the most iconic speeches in American history. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.

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44. Leonid Brezhnev
> Nation/Territory: Soviet Union
> Title: General Secretary/President
> Time in power/Reign: 1964-1982

After Nikita Khrushchev was forced out of power, Leonid Brezhnev became general secretary/president of the Soviet Union in 1964. Under Brezhnev, the Soviet Union built up its nuclear and conventional military capability and exercised an iron-fisted control over Eastern Europe, as demonstrated by its suppression of the attempts at liberalization of Czechoslovakia in 1968. During Brezhnev’s tenure, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

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45. Indira Gandhi
> Nation/Territory: India
> Title: Prime Minister
> Time in power/Reign: 1966-1977, 1980-1984

Indira Gandhi was the daughter of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Two years after he left as PM in 1964, she became India’s prime minister. Gandhi served three terms from 1966 to 1977 during which she presided over agricultural reforms and led a successful war against Pakistan. She centralized power, and made enemies with her increasing authoritarianism in which she curtailed Indians’ constitutional rights. After a three-year hiatus, she returned to power in 1980, and four years later was assassinated by her bodyguards.