Manufacturing the Greatest Indian

Do we know about who is the greatest Indian before Mahatma Gandhi?

It does not matter. We live in iconic times with iconic figure who did iconic things and deserve iconic status through iconic surveys. So, the question for a survey (TGI) “Based on an internationally acclaimed format by BBC held in 22 countries” is “Who is the greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi?” It is no surprise that it is a media-propped poll and “the initiative is to select that one great Indian after Mahatma Gandhi who is the most influential, iconic & inspirational and has impacted your life”.

There could be quite a few or perhaps none of the fifty names mentioned. But why is Gandhiji the cut-off date? I can understand the use of a term like “post-Independence”. If he is the benchmark, then what are the variables by which we are to judge industrialists, sportspersons, actors, scientists, musicians, activists or even politicians? Do they have to be ‘Gandhian’? If not, then does it not nullify the yardstick of the chosen iconoclasm?

Besides, how do we define an Indian as great? Due to their origin or their contribution to what is the ‘essential’ India, and that may be far removed from those featured here?

Indira Gandhi

It is ironical that Indira Gandhi, who had declared Emergency, shares the space with Jayprakash Narayan, who bitterly opposed it and suffered for it? The acquisitive business people stand along with the ones who gave it all up.

Vinoba Bhave

How do we judge? Will the general pool reflect how people feel, and I am not taking into account those that cannot vote by giving a missed call.

The media partners will have a good time. They will be in charge of the decision-making process. Primetime and newsprint will bring you the ‘news’, and then there will be analyses. As for the token of the title, there will be comparisons and whoever makes it will in some way be given a Gandhian rubdown.

The India that existed and flourished in the past does not exist. The India where discoveries were made, art and literature flourished, and political strategy was as crucial as swordsmanship, that India does not exist in the finger-wagging and tapping world. How can they say your vote counts, when they have already decided on the broad spectrum of who matters?

The luminaries are pretty much great in their fields, but what was relevant in say the 50s does not apply to those who came in later. Is there no difference between scoring a hundred tons and working among lepers? Is there no qualitative difference between a Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and a Kanshi Ram? How does Atal Bihari Vajyapee feature for being loved by both admirers and opponents, when that is how politics works?

Achievements are now propped up by commercial interests as they were probably ideologically exaggerated in the old days. Today’s greatness rests on success; yesterday’s on making inroads.

Is Mahatma Gandhi in any way a unifying force? The symbolism of the name is, of course, canny marketing. But it leaves one wondering as to whether the greatest Indian – whoever she or he may be – will also be one who has been truly great for India. If so, then what aspect of India? Ask no questions. A pedestal awaits. Your vote will give you a chance to be part of the icon factory.

(c) Farzana Versey

1 comment:

  1. my guess is they meant post independence . like the title of the book "india, after gandhi".

    i personally am not much interested in the "greatest india" business. this is consumerism of news or news as an entertainment (i don't really think there is anything wrong with that either ). but it is interesting to look into people who have influenced the countries's path . who have lived during some critical periods.

    for that , i find ramachandra guha's work really fascinating. recently i was listening to an account of three dalit brothers from maharashtra. it is on the you tube. you can try it - i found it fascinating.

    as for gandhi - i think he is one of the "greatest indians". and this is coming from a bengali who are stereotyped as somewhat anti-gandhi (which i was) .
    i guess you don't like the guy. but let's ask ourselves few questions.
    how many post colonial countries are sustained democracy,reasonably united and can even be termed as pluralistic/tolerant?
    is india an exception? why?


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