Who is the greatest Indian? (After Gandhi, of course)

June 18, 2012

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.

Interestingly, the list includes the famous painter Maqbool Fida Husain who was, ironically, chased away from the country by right-wing Hindus for painting Hindu gods and Mother India in the nude.

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.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Who said Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was “Greatest Indian” ???
We didn’t said that.

Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Savarkar and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar are the real heros of India.

Posted by David_Hussey | Report as abusive

Undoubtedly Nehru was the greatest Indian (after Gandhi). He was not just the First PM of India, was a great mind and one who put strong foundations of a modern India. He was a liberal democrat (left of centre)and was a great parliamentarian. Without Nehru at the beginning of Independence, todays’ India is inconceivable. AbhoyMohapatra

Posted by AbhoyMohapatra | Report as abusive

Here is a comment submitted by Dilip Gadkar, editor of the blog Macro Viewpoints. Mr. Gadkar takes strong exception to some of the blog post author’s points. We encourage you to read it and contribute to the discussion.
Robert MacMillan
Editor, Reuters.com global editions

Dear Editor,

Our Blog has made it a focus to identify and criticize deep anti-Hindu prejudice that seems latent in American media. Their favored modus operandi, we find, is to drop a contemptuous sentence or two in an otherwise good article. We refer to this practice as “side-swiping” Hinduism and Hindus, the term normally used for a deliberate glancing hit with a vehicle delivered when presumably no one is watching. This article on Reuters.com is an excellent example of such side-swiping.
We refer to the sentence:
“Interestingly, the list includes the famous painter Maqbool Fida Husain who was, ironically, chased away from the country by right-wing Hindus for painting Hindu gods and Mother India in the nude.”
There was absolutely no reason to even refer to this topic in the article. This sentence could have been omitted without any damage whatsoever to this article’s content. In our opinion, this sentence
was only inserted to provide the writer the opportunity to express his contempt of Hindus without obviously seeming to do so – classic side-swiping.
It is important to discuss why devout Hindus, “right-wing Hindus” as the writer terms them, were outraged by Mr. Husain’s actions.
Mr. Husain, a Muslim, never painted anything that was offensive to Islam to our knowledge. For example, he never painted a picture of Allah or Mohammad; he never painted a picture of any Muslim Saint, Imam or Mullah in the nude. We wonder whether he ever painted any Muslim woman in the nude, revered or otherwise.
Mr. Husain’s special “thing”, a perversion” or at least a “fetish” in our opinion, was to paint revered Hindu Goddesses in the nude. He did so knowing fully well that this act would be deeply offensive to
hundreds of millions of Hindus.
Michaelangelo also painted figures in the nude. But he painted figures from his own community, from his religion. Unlike Husain, Michaelangelo did not seek out religious icons of a different religion, of a different community and then paint them only in the nude. How would Papal Rome in Michaelangelo’s days have treated a Muslim painter in Rome or Florence who painted Mary in the nude? How
would today’s Vatican treat a Muslim Painter who paints Mary in the nude? Not very kindly, we bet.
Actually, an unbiased writer would have found it interesting that a painter with such a anti-Hindu perversion would be included in the list of 50 Greatest Indians. But not Mr. Siddiquie. He termed devout
outraged Hindus as “right-wing” and blamed them for having “chased away” Mr. Husain.
We assume Mr. Siddiquie is a Muslim. If true, we are absolutely appalled that Reuters would allow a Muslim writer to express his contempt of Hindus on the Reuters platform. We have not seen any
instance of a Muslim writer being allowed by Reuters to express such sentiments about Jews, we have not seen any case of a Muslim writer being allowed by Reuters to express such a bias against “right-wing” Christians. Rightly so. But we guess Hindus don’t deserve such fair treatment. The editors surely know about the 1,000 year religious tension between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian sub-continent. Yet, they blithely allowed a Muslim writer to characterize devout Hindus as “right-wing” and criticize them for “chasing away” Mr. Husain. This is sheer editorial malpractice in our opinion.
Getting back to the writer, we ask:
Did he ever publish on Reuters or on any other platform, such a criticism of Muslims who rioted against the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad?
Mayor Giuliani, we recall, ordered the removal of a nude painting of Jesus Christ from a Brooklyn Museum. Has this writer ever condemned Mr. Giuliani or Christians who expressed their outrage about that painting?
A couple of years ago, a billboard was put up in New Zealand depicting a post-intercourse comment between Mary & Joseph, parents of Jesus Christ. The objectives, the painters said, was not to offend but
to provoke a discussion about the concept of immaculate conception.
The outrage was intense and the billboard was removed the same day.
Has this writer ever condemned those Christians for being “right-wing” and for tearing down the billboard? Is there a single published instance of this writer ever condemning Christians for being offended by what they consider to be a sacrilege?
We doubt it. So we are inclined to believe that Mr. Siddiquie reserves his bias, his contempt only for Hindus.
The arguments above lead us to the conclusion that the gratuitously offensive sentence in the article is an act of bias and contempt towards Hindus. So we feel justified in calling a flagrant foul on
both Mr. Siddiquie and Reuters editors for this journalistic misconduct.

Dilip Gadkar
Editor, Macro Viewpoints

Posted by RobertMac1 | Report as abusive

Before start to poll and vote, it should have been cleared that who have decided Mr. Gandhi is the greatest indian. The majority of people don’t think so.

Posted by SanjayB | Report as abusive

It is mother teresa she has served the poorest of the poor of the world

Posted by santosh29 | Report as abusive

If we look at the behind of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s life it was shown how he had struggled in his life & done lot of work for “lower” and “backward” castes, as well as Dalits & provide them to live like a human & also provided them all the rights – just because of his grestest work for society we can say proudly YES BHARAT RATAN DR.BHIM RAO AMBEDKAR JI IS THE GRESTEST INDIAN BEFORE OR AFTER MAHATMA GANDHI

Posted by PardeepKaim1973 | Report as abusive

The greatest Indian of the past 100 years is none of the above. How could you have missed? The greatest Indian of modern times is unequivocally, Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879 – 1950).

Posted by duartmc | Report as abusive

1.He was a Great Economist
2. Most talented Man in the Universe (By Oxford Univerist Survey)
2. He was great social reformer just did impossoble Social Revolution by giving Human rights to untochables
3. He is a Father of Indian Constitution
4. RBI formation :The Reserve Bank of India was founded on 1 April 1935 to respond to economic troubles after the First World War,The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) came into picture according to the guidelines laid down by Dr Ambedkar? RBI was conceptualized as per the guidelines, working style and outlook presented by Dr Ambedkar in front of the Hilton Young Commission. When this commission came to India under the name of “Royal Commission on Indian Currency & Finance”, each and every member of this commission were holding Dr Ambedkar’s book named “The Problem of the Rupee – It’s origin and it’s solution.”[3] The Bank was set up based on the recommendations of the 1926 Royal Commission on Indian Currency and Finance, also known as the Hilton–Young Commission.[

5. Great Journalist
6. Great Lawyer
7. Eshtablished Colleges (Milind college @ Aurngabad & Sidarth College @ mumbai )
8. Multidoctorate degree holder from USA ,UK,Germany
9. Religious Revolutionalist (Embrassed Buddhisam with Lacks of People)
10. First Indian Political leader who had resigned due to failur of Hindu Code Bill
11. First Leader who is really worshiping like GOD.
12. First man who ended the thousand years of the slavery of untochables.
13. Gandhi how can be ?? (refer What Congress and Gandhi done to Untpouchable or Gandhi could save ethe life of Bhagat Singh .He never go for fast for to stop Untouchability or India-Pakistan Parttion )

Posted by GuptaAnil | Report as abusive


He represents all that is Indian. He’s tolerant, patient, spiritual, sensitive, emotional, celebratory, colourful, spicy, gullible, peace-loving, forgiving, forgetting, foolish, trusting, warm, caring, hopeful, loyal, disorganized, chaotic, divergent …..

But what make him the greatest?

For centuries he has absorbed tyranny, invasions, divisive rulers, corrupt leaders and insensitive governments and yet maintains a faith and expectation from the ruling class that one day there will be Ramrajya, a king like Mahabali or an emperor like Akbar – that’s what makes him the greatest.

Even when faced and challenged by religious propaganda of all kinds and colours, despite violent, persuasive, enticing or intimidatory tactics, he has maintained an amazing tolerance for all forms of faiths – that’s what makes him the greatest.

Every single day of his life he struggles for his basic survival and that of his family. He constantly strives to make his life and that of his family better. Every day he faces unemployment, inflation, lack of basic amenities, wrath of the elements, apathy, exploitation … and yet sleeps in peace at night hoping for a better tomorrow – that’s what makes him the greatest.

Despite rising selfishness and self-centeredness in the world, despite the culture of competitive and individual pursuit of wealth, despite being faced by an increasing isolation of people from one another, he will still respectfully look after his old, ailing parents or his unemployed brother and he will still stand for and help his neighbour and brother in their times of need – that’s what makes him the greatest.

In an ever-increasing environment of an emphasis on the material and physical, despite peer pressure, despite the fruits of technology and modernity becoming overly tempting and seductive, he still finds value and dignity in honesty and honour and he still maintains a need to fulfill the needs of his spiritual self – that’s what makes him the greatest.

Despite being cheated, conned, deceived, swindled, defrauded, duped, tricked, taken advantage of. Despite witnessing an increasingly untrustworthy world, he still finds reason to trust his fellow human – that’s what makes him the greatest.

Even in his sorely pathetic condition, helplessness and emasculated life, he finds fulfillment in the fantastic accomplishments of celluloid heroes, soap-opera characters and cricketing gladiators. Even in the darkest of times he will find a source of light, even in the most pitiable and sorrowful seasons he will find reason to smile – that’s what makes him the greatest.

While the world wallows in the sorrows of economic meltdowns, recessions, wars, violence, crime, uncertain future, trauma of globalization … While constantly in the midst of grumbles, protests, criticisms, grievances, objections, moans and cries he still finds reason to celebrate a hundred festivals every year. He still finds reason to enjoy art, dance and music in his daily life. He still finds reason to thank God for the gifts of life, love and beauty – that’s what makes him the greatest.

Despite evolved statistical sciences, intrusive data collection methods, surreptitious mind-reading tactics, mood gauging theories, political networking …. He still manages to surprise and shock everyone by his choice of vote – that’s what makes him the greatest.

For centuries he has been subjected to dominating cultural influences by invaders, imperialists, film makers, writers, governments, religious leaders and giant media conglomerates. Despite his education, despite his branded clothes and gadgets, despite his global outlook, despite his changed lifestyle, despite powerful attempts to dilute his basic Indian-ness through various means he has not only maintained his Indian sensibilities but also spread his cultural legacy throughout the world and that too, without violence, coercion or manipulation. India lives because of this Indian – the common man, the lady next door, the man on the street. He may be nameless and faceless but he’s the strongest Indian, the most powerful Indian and the most stable Indian. He is India’s past, India’s present and India’s future. HE IS THE GREATEST INDIAN.

Posted by Gopalkrishna | Report as abusive

I personally feel Mr M k Gandhi is not the greatest Indian, his contribution to the independence cannot be neglected but the tag does not suits him there are some reasons
1.He was a person who was in love with the rule of British on India, he always liked this foreign rule on India, But he was thrown out of the train in South Africa, it actually made him feel he is a black and was equally treated as black of the Africa.
This incident made him to fight for the injustice on Indian done by the British rule on Indians and not for the south Africans who were treated as blacks and inferior. For this you people might know he fight to open a separate gate for Indians for the post office entry in south Africa, so that to make this clear for the British that Indians are superior than the south Africans. Was this right? Is this in favor of humanity?
2. The second reason is he actually supported “varna” system, “manusmriti” which were the root cause for the injustice done on the backward class people.
3. He supported the idea behind the classes in Hindu society.
4.He was of the view that the no country has right to rule rule over other country, but was in the favor about rule of one class over other class.
5.Just think what was the root cause of the partition? Was partition really necessary. Why was Muslim community not supported Gandhi but Jinnah on the idea of partition.
Because of the inconsistent behavior of Mr Gandhi on Indian Independence.
I think all that he did for our country is really immeasurable but he actually cannot be called as a Greatest Indians.

My vote goes to “Dr B R Ambedkar” for his contribution for our country.
This man came from a family who belonged to community which was treated so badly by uppercaste Hindus which has no parallel injustice.
Still he stood to all those injustice impound upon him and showed all those so called uppercaste that they are wrong.
At that time there was no parallel scholar compared to him.
There are no sufficient words to describe his contribution.
I don’t even think that all the nominees are even near to him for this competition. All others are really great and there contribution is also huge, but you cannot put “Dr Ambedkar” with this people, his contribution is far great and big that any one else here.
I request all the voters please have the knowledge of history do read the worlds history each nominees background and work and then vote.

– Dr S Nanir

Posted by kukoo | Report as abusive

Buddha(Buddhism) and Krishna(Bhagwati Gita) changed the world. or are we just looking for the most famous indian in the last 100 years. Amitabh bachan is not even the best actor in indian history(Mainly commercial movies). A.R. rahman- really? how about Ravi Shankar(Grammy lifetime achievement) ? Indra Gandhi- first female leader of democracy. Mr. Tagore- first indian to win nobel prize for literature.

Posted by VJ5 | Report as abusive

Dr S Nanir i totaly agree with u…yes babasaheb ambedkar greatest indian

Posted by 1234587 | Report as abusive

who will be INDIAN HEROES is depending on how he/she/other has contributed not to change but to build new way of thinking,we should not consider only the populist heroes but also acknowledge the hidden ones who are really showing the new path perhaps the NEW INDIA …..

Posted by qwwrttyyuio | Report as abusive