Who is the greatest Indian? (After Gandhi, of course)
What is the correct parameter to gauge greatness? This interesting question becomes more so when you apply it to a person rather than a thing. It becomes especially interesting when a poll asks the people to decide who is the “greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi”.
The poll, sponsored by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Mobile and conducted by CNN-IBN and the History channel, both owned by Network 18 group, is open to Indian citizens and has a simple voting process. Call the number assigned to your choice to register your vote. You can also vote online.
Among the 50 choices are:
Bhimrao Ambedkar, the champion of the rights of India’s disenfranchised, particularly its “lower” and “backward” castes, as well as Dalits, or what the rest of the world knows as “untouchables.” He is also the man behind India’s constitution.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, whose descendants control India’s ruling party and are often considered the first family of the country.
APJ Abdul Kalam, India’s former president and a well known scientist. Kalam is also credited for India’s nuclear programme.
Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun, founder of the Missionaries of Charity and winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.
AR Rahman, the Oscar-winning music director, known for his work in the critically acclaimed film “Slumdog Millionaire”.
Amitabh Bachchan, one of the two leading men in India’s most successful film ever, “Sholay,” and an inveterate pitchman, not to mention the bearer of a cameo appearance in Baz Luhrmann’s take on “The Great Gatsby”.
Sachin Tendulkar, one of India’s most famous cricket stars, and a newly minted legislator in India’s parliament.
If you are to judge the greatest among them, how do you determine a parameter other than fame? Or entertainment? Isn’t judging Sachin against Mother Teresa — or Amitabh Bachchan — like judging a fish on how well it can climb a tree?
Of course, an Indian can be as proud of Sachin as he can of Kalam. But comparing greatness between men and women from different aspects of Indian society risks putting the average guy in a position that might make him feel a bit disloyal — cricket champion vs. father of the Constitution of India. Isn’t it necessary to distinguish between forms of greatness?
And what about the contention that Gandhi is the greatest Indian ever?
He did teach Indians the power of non-violence in the face of the gun, and let’s not forget that there were plenty of Indians who thought that affairs of state would go better without him. His assassination in 1948 itself proves that not everyone agreed with his ideas.
Gandhi has come under criticism for a lot of things — his experiments with celibacy and alienating the firebrand leader Subhash Chandra Bose from the Congress party who later founded Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) with the help of the Japanese during World War II to wage an armed struggle against the British.
His detractors also hold him accountable for failing to save Indian nationalists Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, who were accused of killing the assistant police superintendent John Saunders and hanged.
Also, many people say that Gandhi is the man who was responsible for dividing the newly independent India into India and Pakistan.
As for Ambedkar, he created the reservation system to provide affirmative action for “backward” and underrepresented minorities. In India, where caste remains a major problem to the extent of being the decisive factor in several state elections, even when it is not supposed to exist in a serious democracy, you could read this as a major hindrance to being “great”.
Then there is the matter of the poll. Though Ambedkar seems to be winning with approximately 65 percent of the votes, there have been some odd leaps in the numbers. Example: Kalam overtook Kanshiram, another champion of cause of lower castes in a matter of few hours in spite of trailing earlier.
Polls are designed to reveal public opinion, and this one appears to be doing its best to provide that. But a poll also should avoid fixing the winner before it even gets started. In the world’s largest democracy, there probably is a “greatest Indian,” whether for events profound or otherwise. Whether this poll can provide that result is a matter of … public opinion.