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The Politics Of The ‘Greatest' Indian

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

12 June, 2012

Indian's have always been fascinated in comparing people and using the best available adjectives for their favorite leaders and sports stars. It is unknown to us to respect the diversity of these people and understand that each one of the leaders had their own qualities which influenced us. It is also important to understand that different political leaders and sports persons were born in different era and had different sets of challenges before them hence a comparison cannot be made. Of course, it is important that when we do such surveys, we keep in mind growing realities of the time and their relationships with the people. The fact is that, you would find it difficult to vote for a writer or a philosopher as the ‘greatest Indian in this age when Saas Bahu serial are so powerful that an Smriti Irani could find way for the ‘greatest' Indian slot than a writer who might have influenced our thoughts .  It might also be possible that a Cricket Star or a Film star may get more votes than many of the personalities who dedicated their lives for the nation building.

There is no problem in organizing such contests as they help the TV channels linked with various sections of people and at the end work towards increasing their TRPs. However, the manner in which some of these channels have done their surveys makes everything laughable. We have to also understand, can we make people ‘greatest' by just a few votes online .  For example, a recent survey  on greatest Indian Bollywood Star reveal that Shahrukh khan was the ‘greatest' Indian film star of the film Industry at No 1, followed by Amir Khan and then Salman Khan. Amitabh Bachchan came at no 4, while Dilip Kumar at No 5. The greatest showman of India and arguably the first Indian International Star Raj Kapoor fell at no 14. Now, anyone who knows films in India will laugh at this whole drama of greatest Indian film star. Is Shahrukh Khan the best and most popular Indian film star even today leave aside the claims of the ‘greatest' in last one hundred years. For voting on these things impartially, one will have to understand the work of all the people who have been posted for the slot. If you do not know about the era of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Devanand then how would one comment on their film making. Can anyone speak of Indian cinema if does not know about Guru Dutt, Kamal Amrohi or Sanjeev Kumar? Why do our channels make joke of themselves. If cricketers are to be voted, then definitely Sachin Tendulkar will get such a support that none will come close to him  but after 5 years, when Sachin would be out of the game, one should not be surprised hearing Virendra Sehwag, the greatest Indian. Not long ago when Virendra Sehwag broke record of Pankaj Roy in the first class cricket and he was informed about the same, he was not amused as he did not ever hear of Pankaj Roy. The greatest problems with Indians are their understanding of history which is very limited. So, the present day boys would not even know in what circumstances Tiger Pataudi played or how wonderful was to see Gundappa Vishwnath in full flow or how Chandrashekhar used to bowl.  This generation, clearly cut from the past, end up with the latest players and their best revolve round them. We, as a nation, have no sense of history in any stream. That is why these polls are farcical and cannot decide about the greatness. You cannot decide who is great and who is not based on these surveys. The problem with such a poll is that they are unscientific and are meant to promote certain individuals and provide legitimacy to them for fixing the agendas of the nation.

Now, we are hearing about the ‘greatest' Indian and that include people from different streams. So, you have so many people in the list including businessmen, cricketers, film stars, and off course, political leaders of different variety except for Mahatma Gandhi who we have already anointed as ‘greatest' Indian. Why and how come Gandhi has been declared as India's ‘greatest'. Which survey or referendum is making Gandhi the ‘greatest'. When you are putting Gandhi's contemporaries on the poll, why Gandhi was left aside? Was it a fear that Gandhi might be defeated in the online survey and that would expose all the hollowness of Gandhian greatness? It is a very smart move by the channel to save them from the wrath of the government who might feel offended with any reference to Gandhi.

The interesting part of the online poll is the hollowness of the idea itself. Now among Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad and Mahatma Gandhi the poll is easier and undoubtedly Gandhi will be the greatest Indian and you can always claim who is the next one after Gandhi if we have to discuss among ourselves. But when there are diverse issues and history is being reevaluated with Gandhi and Congress party's role being scrutinized in a more scientific way then it was done earlier, a poll who is greatest Indian after Gandhi is a betrayal of the sentiments of the country as we would like to ask when was the survey for ‘greatest' Indian ever done and who got what? The greatest Indian need contemporariness and cannot be found which look like a match fixing event. Definitely, it could be the person who influenced India or maximum number of Indians. Now, if we say, Gandhi influenced our psyche the most, then we must analyze what is that point of Gandhi that influenced us and where do we stand. Just by voting who is the ‘greatest' by random online voting will not change the realities of our life.

Our question is not that channel should not do it. They should do it and sit and analyze it. But why who is greatest Indian after Gandhi when we are talking about the contemporaries of Gandhi himself. During his life time, Gandhi was projected to be the greatest among the upper caste Hindus. Definitely, any poll would have left Jinnah on the support of the Muslim votes only and Ambedkar did not have a possibility of winning the poll that time as the Dalits had not come to the age as middle classes. If you opt for a referendum today in India about the greatest Indian, Gandhi may not get that walk over as our people think and Ambedkar may easily push him down. The editors can depute their reporters on four important days and find how people celebrate them. Yes, depute your reporter on October 2 nd or January 30 th which are Gandhi's birthday and the day he was shot by Nathu Ram Godse. Find, how many people attended the programme and whether these programmes were government sponsored or self sponsored. Let us also depute our reporters on April 14 th and December 6 th , the day of Ambedkar's birth and when he passed away respectively. And you will realize who influenced India the most and who is the greatest.

Let us not forget that this is growing Ambedkar era with rising Dalits sentiments which were never ever accepted and respected during Congress lead freedom movement when Gandhi was at the helm of affairs. That time, the Dalits were just marginalized and their voices were drowned in the upper caste hatred, contempt and anger. Today, things have changed. Despite efforts by the power elite to deny Dalits their history and glory, they have traced their history and did not depend on what the upper caste intellectuals have been projecting them about the greatness of others. Ambedkar remained the tallest and unquestionable the greatest icon for the Dalits who changed their lives. There is no other thought and no second person who can come near him. That is why the Dalits feel hurt when the poll suggests the ‘greatest' Indian after Gandhi. None of them would ever accept Gandhi as ‘greatest' Indian.

It is a very questionable motive to start the online poll as who is the ‘greatest' Indian after Gandhi. Perhaps, they had feared it in advance that Ambedkar can easily over take Gandhi in these voting as with growing number of Dalit middle classes online users whose life was vastly influenced by Dr Ambedkar will never settle for anything less than the greatest.  India is a subcontinent and it would be difficult to decide about such things as the ‘greatest'. The greatest of the upper castes may not be the greatest for the Dalits and other marginalized communities. If ‘greatest' has to be done through the referendum then the government must come out with a referendum as who are the greatest. Let these TV channels not play politics with people's sentiments. India cannot have ‘greatest' Indian after Gandhi when we have engaged contemporaries of Gandhi who differed with him sharply and never ever called him a Mahatma leave alone the ‘greatest'. It is time when we evaluate our people impartially and agree that there were weaknesses in them and they too made mistakes. The business of ‘greatest' Indian must stop as it exploit the sentiments of the people and do not allow them to think rationally that all these ‘greatest' people were human being and acted according to situation that time and made mistakes too.  

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com


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