People vote on independent India’s greatest personalities, achievements — as well as the low points

NEW DELHI: Mahatma Gandhi leads a list of distinguished Indians as the “Greatest Icon of India” during the period since Independence, leading television channel NDTV has found in an opinion poll. It announced the results of the exercise, conducted last month, on Saturday night in a programme titled “India at 60”, in the run-up to the celebration of the 60th year of Independence on Wednesday. The Hindu was the “Print Partner.”

Thousands of respondents made their choices on the Web, through SMS, and also in direct street-corner polls.

The NDTV poll sought to identify events and landmarks that have preoccupied Indians. People were asked to mark their choices in nine categories: ‘India’s Greatest Icon,’ ‘India’s Greatest Pride,’ ‘India’s Worst Shame,’ ‘One Event that Changed India,’ ‘India’s Greatest Political Blot,’ ‘India’s Greatest Sportsperson,’ ‘India’s Greatest Film,’ ‘India’s Greatest Song,’ and ‘What Best Describes India Abroad.’

Asked about the greatest icon, 53 per cent of the respondents, from person-on-the-street to software geek, voted in favour of Mahatma Gandhi. Mother Teresa came second, winning 17 per cent of the vote. Then came industrialist J.R.D. Tata and Infosys Chief Mentor Narayana N.R. Murthy, and actor Amitabh Bachchan. Jawaharlal Nehru was placed behind his daughter Indira Gandhi.

Democracy remains India’s pride. This was confirmed by over 44 per cent of the respondents. Secularism came second, ranked above the IT industry, the armed forces, and the Railways. The judiciary claimed 4 per cent. And what makes Indians hang their head in shame? More than untouchability, hunger, dowry, and manual scavenging, people felt it was bribery.

What has changed India most dramatically is the IT revolution, more than economic liberalisation or the nuclear bomb, the respondents felt. About 12 per cent of them believe that ever since Indians got mobile phones, the country has not been the same.

Biggest blot

The biggest blot is Operation Bluestar, and the anti-Sikh riots sparked by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. The riots after Partition, the Babri Masjid demolition, and the imposition of Emergency in the mid-1970s follow in that order. The 2002 Gujarat riots that claimed over a thousand lives came last: only 9 per cent of the people felt it was the biggest political blunder to date.

Sachin Tendulkar emerged as India’s greatest sportsperson. Viswanathan Anand, a former World No. 1 in chess, came second, followed by Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi together were in the fifth position.

In cinema, the 1957 classic directed by Mehboob Khan, Mother India, was the topper. The Nargis-starrer fared better than Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay. Rang De Basanti’s appeal surpassed that of Mughal-e-Azam.

Favourite song

India’s favourite song, steeped in patriotism, is the one that famously moved Jawaharlal Nehru to tears: ‘Aye Mere Watan ke Logon’, sung by Lata Mangeshkar. ‘Dum Maro Dum’ from Hare Rama Hare Krishna came second, closely followed by ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani’ (Shree 420) and ‘Jab Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya’ (Mughal-e-Azam).

And, what best describes India to the world? Brains, Yoga, Bollywood, Curry, and Gurus — in that order.