Vinod Mehta, a reputed journalist who edited dailies such as Pioneer, Independent and Outlook magazine, did a wonderful thing way back in 2012. He was at that time the editor-in-chief of Outlook maganzine. He wanted to find out who is the greatest Indian in the opinion of the people living at that point in time. He mobilized great personalities from different fields to be on selection panel.
Vinod Mehta himself and another editor N. Ram of The Hindu were the journalists among the 28 experts who comprised the panel prepared by Mehta. It was a huge exercise. It was sponsored by Reliance Mobile, partnered by CNN-IBN and the History Channel. Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, former chairperson of Censor Board of India and Bollywood actor Sharmila Tagore, historian Ramachandra Guha, author Chetan Bhagat, Sports commentator Harsha Bhogle, Politician and author Shashi Tharoor, BJP leader and famous advocate Arun Jaitley, IT expert Nandan Nilenkani and celebrity columnist Shobha De and others were persuaded by Vinod Mehta to be part of his dream panel.
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A dream panel
A list of one hundred great personalities was prepared by the panel. It was released live by Rajdeep Sardesai who was editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN. Votes by the jury, by the people in online poll and the opinions of the people in the survey conducted by Nielsen Company were given the same value. 7,129,050 persons participated in online poll.
The list of the final top ten great Indians was announced on 3 July 2012. Then the second round of poll was done following the same methodology. 20,000,000 persons took part in the second round. Amitabh Bachchan hosted the grand finale where the list of greatest Indian was announced.
Mahatma Gandhi was left out in the competition since the panel thought if his name were to be included among the competitors, others would have no chance and there would be no competition since Gandhi would be the obvious choice.
BR Ambedkar topped the list followed by Abdul Kalam, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mother Teresa, JRD Tata, Indira Gandhi, Sachin Tendulkar, A.B. Vajpayee and Lata Mangeshkar.
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Ten top Indians
The list has to be taken with the knowledge that the opinions of the people were not considered scientifically going by the track record or any standards of the competitors. It was the gut feeling of the people at that particular time. Vallabhbhai Patel, Amebdkar and Nehru passed away more than forty eight years ago by 2012. Many of the voters may not have seen Nehru, Patel or Amebedkar. They voted by their heart and the limited knowledge of history they happen to have. But there is no doubt that one person who has eternal relevance in India is Ambedkar, the maker of Indian constitution. Even if a poll is held today, Ambedkar would come first. Others in the top ten list may change places.
Of the top four, Jawaharlal Nehru died this day 57 years ago. He is the much maligned man in today’s India for no fault of his. He was against the RSS and other Hindu outfits. He was a cent per cent secularist. He was the builder of modern India. When the first NDA under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee came to power, there was no Nehru-bashing. Vajpayee himself was an ardent admirer of Nehru. The tribute he paid to Nehru when the first Indian prime minister passed away was truly moving.
It started with Narendra Modi becoming prime minister in 2014. It would not have happened if Advani became the prime minister instead of Modi. Vilification of Nehru, belittling his accomplishments, holding him responsible for all kinds of problems, including Kashmir, has become the habit with Modi. The RSS appears to be supporting anti-Nehru propaganda. In any case, it did not say a word of caution when Modi was going all out in castigating the builder of modern India.
Distortion of history
In the process, untruths were uttered and history has been distorted. There was no enmity between Gandhi and Ambedkar or Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. The differences were invented by the persons and parties who would like to thrive on the controversy discussing Gandhi vs Ambedkar or Nehru vs Patel. It was Gandhi who suggested that Ambedkar is the most able person to head the drafting committee of the constitution of India. There might have been policy differences. But they respected each other in those times. It was Patel who told Nehru that the latter was free to utilize his services any which way he wanted. If one cares to read history and the letter exchanged between the great personalities, the truth would be known. There is nothing to argue with people with closed minds who are determined to indulge in mud raking and talking ill of the great sons and daughters of India.
People who are interested in building a present narrative by distorting the past cannot be stopped from the ugly exercise since they are doing it deliberately. Jawahalal Nehru (JN) was declared by Gandhiji in 1942 as his political successor. Patel who was fourteen years older than Nehru had welcomed Gandhi’s decision. Rajaji who was 11 years older than Nehru said Nehru was eleven hundred times greater than him. They had no problems. Only the small minded people have. Between 1921, nine years after JN returned to India from England where he lived for seven years, and 1945, he was in jail for nine years.
Plunges into freedom struggle
Till 16, JN was educated at his home in Allahabad by tutors. Then he went to Harrow School in England. From the school he went to Trinity college of Cambridge university to do his degree in natural sciences. Then he took his degree in law from Inns of Court School of law. JN returned to India in 1912. He enrolled himself in court but his heart was on freedom movement. He plunged into the freedom struggle and never looked back. Four years after returning to India, Nehru married Kamala Kaul, from a Kashmiri Pundit family to which Nehru also belonged. JN met Gandhi in 1920 and became very close to him as years passed by. He was first arrested in 1921 on charges of indulging in anti-government activities. He was general secretary of the Congress party for three terms between 1923 and 1927.
Lahore session of AICC
In Lahore session of the Congress party in 1927, Nehru declared complete independence as the party’s goal. He participated in Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and civil disobedience movement in 1940- both under the leadership of Gandhi. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment for taking part in civil disobedience movement. JN was in jail at the time of Quit India movement in 1942. It was at that time that Gandhi designated JN as his successor.
After the elections to the provincial assemblies were over, JN became the prime minister of the interim government. He remained in that position even after achieving independence on 15 August 1947 till 1950 when the constitution came into effect and he became prime minister proper. He followed Soviet model of development. Five-year plans, which were given a go by the NDA-II government, were his idea of planning.
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Builder of modern India
JN had scientific temper. He opposed superstitions and invited rational argument. He believed in secularism and socialism. Big industries were established in public sector. He founded institutions of higher learning such as IITs, IIMs and AIIMS. National Defence Academy was his brainchild. Atomic Energy was his contribution. State Reorganisation Commission to create States on linguistic lines also was a product of his policy. Non-alignment movement was his creation. He rubbed shoulders with Marshal Tito and Nasser. JN himself handled the external affairs portfolio till the end. He was the architect of India’s foreign policy. He signed Panch sheel pact with China which country he underestimated and had taken for granted. He had to pay a heavy price for that folly. He was not the same after the 1961 India-China war which was one-sided and India lost heavily. The defeat had taken its toll and he never recovered from the shock.
No negative vibrations, please!
All said and done, India was fortunate to have such a stout hearted visionary as a leader to nurse it at a very nascent stage. He was the builder of modern India. The successive prime ministers built over the foundation laid by JN. Lal Bahadur Shastry, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh and others tried their best to take the country forward in their own way. Modi could have done that in a better fashion, given his energy and dedication, without indulging in digging the past and distorting history to create new and disturbing narrative. It was not necessary to malign past leaders. They may have committed mistakes. They were after all human beings. But their nationalistic commitment and dedication should not be doubted. It is not done in any democratic country. Every leader has his role to play. One should rise to the occasion when an opportunity presents itself. Negative vibrations do a lot of harm to the country.
On his 57th death anniversary on 27 May 2021, let the nation join the leaders who are paying tributes to the extraordinary visionary, one of the greatest Indians.
(May 27 is the 57th death anniversary of the first prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru)