Sunday, July 08, 2012

Greatest Indian After Gandhi

Well this attempt by CNN-IBN to select/elect the greatest Indian after Gandhi has been on my mind for a while. A tacit acknowledgement that Gandhi was the greatest Indian, itself has been a bone of contention for some in this country. Since a bench mark has been set we are obliged to  compare the contenders with the standards set by the Mahatma. For me the greatness of the Mahatma was in the complete harmony in thought word and deed. The steadfast adherence to the values of truth and non-violence along with the basic principle of giving more importance to the means adopted to reach the goals over the goals itself. Coupled with all this, he was a shrewd tactician and a street smart politician who out witted seasoned opponents. He had the humility to listen to his bitterest critics and accommodate their views and even admit his own mistakes. And in the context of our times, Gandhi's concept of wealth accumulation for the cause and holding it as trustee is extremely important to me. Since we are defining the greatest Indian, we need to define the greatness in terms of impact on Indians and the legacy left behind by their life and body of work.

After shortlisting 50 Indians chosen by a selected jury and putting them to vote the last 10 have been decided.. Analyzing each one and the reasons for agreement or disagreement with the choices will be my brief in the next few paragraphs.

APJ Abdul Kalam, was a great scientist but certainly not the greatest in the post independence era. His team at ISRO made a major contribution to his achievements. However as a people's President with a hand on proactive approach and his ability to connect to the youth make him a popular choice. His support for nuclear energy and legacy of Pokharan are certainly issues which make me more than uncomfortable with his choice among the top 10.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee for me fails on the test of harmony in thought word and deed. His inability to seize the moment and listen to his conscience at the time of the Gujarat genocide, for me negates most of what he did before. If people say he was a right man in the wrong party, I disagree with that too, for he was a mask used by the communal elements to get power. And Vajpayee allowed himself to be used as such. Flowery speech and oratorical skills, not backed by action when required to my mind disqualifies Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Jawaharlal Nehru was an architect of modern India and a true democrat. His nurturing of scientific temper and creation of institutes of excellence in education and public sector enterprises, were required in his time and no one can deny Nehru's immense contribution to India. However, as a leader he negated most of Gandhi's vision. While I grant that his intentions were always good, he outlived his utility and left behind a legacy which has harmed the nation more than benefited it. Dynastic rule has become the bane of Indian politics, the green revolution effect of poisoning our land and water bodies and his inability to stamp out corruption when it started and his mishandling of Kashmir and war against China make him to my mind not a contender for the greatest after Gandhi. Still he deserves a place in the top 10.

Lata Mangeshkar for sheer longevity and the joy she has given to Indians with her voice and inspiration makes her a very good choice. While she has her flaws in terms of  not nurturing talent and crushing her opponents by means fair and foul, her impact is undisputed. Her record of lending her voice to social causes and fund raising efforts has been excellent and she certainly deserves a place in the top 10.

Sachin Tendulkar is certainly a great, an achiever, with immense talent and ability coupled with determination and single minded pursuit of excellence. While many say that cricket is not a global sport as compared to football or even hockey, I do not think that this fact disqualifies Sachin from being called the greatest Indian. His conduct on and off the field has been above average but not without blemish (the Ferrari episode and slowing before landmarks are what immediately come to mind). He has lent himself to social causes and silently contributed beyond his sport. He has given unparallelled joy to millions of Indians in a game which is a national obsession. However, real greatness is defined by rising to the occasion when all around you is falling apart. In this respect Sachin's record in finals and on the big occasion has been found wanting. While success and failure in a game is often a matter of luck the greatest show more consistency than Sachin. He deserves a place in top 10 but not my choice for greatest.

Mother Teresa's impact and social reach in this country and internationally is immense and her legacy is truly inspiring. While accusations of conversion have arisen from time to time I feel she has answered this accusation well. They have just used prayer and religion to ease the pain and trauma of death. She cared for the destitute and inspired her Missionaries of Charity to live in poverty and render selfless service. Sometimes she has received funds from dubious sources, but to use that excuse to detract from her greatness would amount to nit picking. I think she deserves to be in the top 10 and even be considered as a contender for the top slot in my humble opinion.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar certainly deserves to be on the list of top 10 Indians. However his contribution in framing our constitution has been exaggerated to some extent. His empowerment of Dalits have made Dalits deify him and his deification has been so excessive that many have felt suffocated by the phenomenon. However, these issues cannot take anything away from his greatness. For me the real blemish on his record comes from his willingness to compromise on the issue of India's independence to gain rights for his bretheren. His inability to trust and work with Mahatma Gandhi too was something I am uncomfortable with. He is therefor not my choice for the greatest Indian.

Sardar Vallabhai Patel has to be an automatic choice for greatest Indian after Gandhi. A man who was wedded to Gandhian principle and ideology and whose transformation from a brown sahib to a homespun mass leader, who could independently command a following of his own, even during Gandhi's lifetime has to be in the top 10. He was essentially a worker willing to put his ego and self interest below the greater common good. His contribution in saving and nurturing the nation in its infancy has not been adequately acknowledged. All the princely states to this day have been integrated seamlessly into India except Kashmir, where he was not allowed a free hand. His integration of the Civil services making it serve the nation gives India a backbone even today. Sardar Patel's only blemish was acceptance of Partition where he for the first time fell apart from his mentor. However, he is a contender for the top slot without any doubt.

JRD Tata's achievements and legacy make him a certain top 10 contender. He was a giant achiever in more fields than one. Leader of an industrial house, his strength was his integrity and value systems bequeathed to his subordinates. His ability to delegate responsibility to others and trust them was his strength. Even when some of his judgements proved wrong he was able to take strong corrective measures and control the damage. He is the father of Indian aviation and Air-India was a model of efficiency till he managed it. His vision and ability to see that government regulations were stifling India's growth story made him a visionary ahead of his times. It is a failure of Nehru and Indira to listen to his advise which was responsible for India's dismal growth rates in the first four decades of India's independence. His policies of worker welfare, respect for all his subordinates and holding wealth as a trustee for the greater common good makes him a contender for the top slot in my humble opinion.

Indira Gandhi making it to the top 10 is certainly a mistake and her selection reflects the present disgust with weak political leadership provided by our present political class. Her rise to the top is by accident of birth, and her achievement is in staying on top by hook or by crook and more often crook. Her strong leadership coupled with a disciplined armed forces resulted in the victory over Pakistan in 1971. However, she can be be credited with the decay and destruction of all that Nehru and Patel left behind. Her selfish pursuit of power and inability to reign in her spoilt son were unpardonable flaws. The bureaucracy, judiciary and armed forces largely retained their integrity not because of her but in spite of her. I do not think she deserves a place in the top 10.

So finally, which are the omissions which I feel are glaring. Three names come to my mind, Vinoba Bhave , C. Rajgopalachari and Vishwanathan Anand. Vinoba tried to usher in a revolution of land reform, which if had been taken to its logical conclusion had the potential to transform India. Rajaji an original thinker and India's first reformist wedded to ideas of free enterprise was pushed into oblivion by banishing him to TN. However he deserves to be contender for the top slot. Vishwanath Anand achievements in a taxing sport and sheer consistency puts him above any other sporting icon.

In conclusion, my choice for the top slot will first narrow down to Mother Teresa, Sardar Patel, JRD Tata, Vinoba Bhave and Rajaji and my final vote goes to Sardar Patel.

These are my honest views, will appreciate comments on the same.

Dr. Vispi Jokhi


Capt. Ajit Vadakayil said...



capt ajit vadakayil

rahul raj said...

The Greatest Indian:JRD TATA

Everyone must be aware of the show "The Greatest Indian" after Mahatma Gandhi which was launched by History Channel in association with CNN-IBN.

JRD TATA has been nominated,J R D Tata was known as a perfectionist among his peers. The only industrialist to get India's highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna, JRD was a pioneer aviator who started civil aviation in India.

Amitabh Bachan shares his view and experince about TATA in this Video.

Che said...

the very idea of identifying the "greatest" is wrong. Every man has displayed greatness & smallness. one cannot conclude that one is great and the other is not. A man is great & small together. Polls like these only spark all those negativity that happened in history. Drop the history. Let it be a memory only. However even if we did, the very idea of having MK Gandhi out of the poll is very very cunning. why shouldn't Gandhi be included? He was certainly not the greatest Indian, even if we considered his morality. How can one be a Mahatma if he supported the ugly Varnashram? A dirty unscientific approach to life. Having said this, i feel we need to drop the idea of carrying history. what ever it talks about, good, bad or ugly, it is unnecessary now, here in an ever changing world.