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Pinnacle of Influence: The Greatest Indians Who Shaped a Nation

The Greatest Indian was a poll sponsored by Reliance Mobile and conducted by Outlook magazine, in partnership with CNN-IBN and The History Channel. The poll was conducted from June to August 2012, with the winner, B. R. Ambedkar, announced on 11 August. A program associated with the poll aired from 4 June until 15 August. This list would be of special interest for students in management, as the sort of work done by these greats should serve as guiding light for aspiring leaders.

The inaugural edition of The Greatest Indian made a powerful statement by crowning B. R. Ambedkar as the winner. Known as the father of the Indian Constitution, Ambedkar was a social reformer and leader of the Dalits. His relentless fight against social discrimination, particularly within the Hindu caste system, marked him as an icon of equality and justice. Beyond politics, Ambedkar’s legacy extended to the revival of Buddhism in India, showcasing his enduring impact on the nation’s social fabric.

Charting the Trailblazers: Top 10 Nominees

The top 10 nominees in The Greatest Indian poll, all recipients of the prestigious Bharat Ratna, represented a diverse tapestry of talent and influence.

  1. B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956): The architect of the Indian Constitution and a social reformer.
  2. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (1931–2015): The “People’s President,” aerospace scientist, and architect of India’s missile programs.
  3. Vallabhbhai Patel (1875–1950): The “Iron Man of India,” instrumental in integrating princely states into the Indian union.
  4. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964): India’s first Prime Minister and an influential figure in the independence movement.
  5. Mother Teresa (1910–1997): “Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” Nobel laureate known for her humanitarian work.
  6. J. R. D. Tata (1904–1993): Industrialist, philanthropist, and founder of Air India.
  7. Indira Gandhi (1917–1984): The “Iron Lady of India,” Prime Minister during crucial periods in Indian history.
  8. Sachin Tendulkar (b. 1973): Cricket legend with numerous records to his name.
  9. Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924–2018): Three-time Prime Minister, renowned poet, and key figure in India’s nuclear tests.
  10. Lata Mangeshkar (1929–2022): The “Nightingale of India,” legendary playback singer.

Behind the Choices: Selecting the Greatest Indian

Unlike other similar polls, The Greatest Indian focused on the post-independence era, acknowledging the monumental changes that shaped the nation. The exclusion of Mahatma Gandhi, the “Father of the Nation,” was deliberate, recognizing his unparalleled influence on pre-independence India. The poll aimed to spotlight individuals who contributed significantly to the surge of independent India, ensuring a fair and competitive selection.

Out of the 50 nominees, 15 received the Bharat Ratna, showcasing the exceptional caliber of individuals considered. Notably, six women made the list, underlining the pivotal role played by women in India’s progress.

The poll’s demographic diversity was evident in the age range of the nominees. From the oldest living nominees, such as B. K. S. Iyengar and Ravi Shankar, to the youngest, Sachin Tendulkar, the list showcased the continuum of impact across generations.

While the top 10 received deserved recognition, the extended list featured luminaries from diverse fields, including arts, sports, politics, and science. From the legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar to business tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani, the spectrum of influence was vast.

The Greatest Indian poll not only celebrated past achievements but also ignited conversations about the ongoing and future contributions of individuals in shaping India’s destiny. As the nation continues to evolve, these icons serve as beacons of inspiration, leaving an everlasting imprint on the collective consciousness of a dynamic and diverse India.

List of original fifty nominees

B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956)

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (1931–2015)

Vallabhbhai Patel (1875–1950)

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964)

Mother Teresa (1910–1997)

J. R. D. Tata (1904–1993)

Indira Gandhi (1917–1984)

Sachin Tendulkar (b. 1973)

Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924–2018)

Lata Mangeshkar (1929–2022)

Jayaprakash Narayan (1902–1979) social reformer

Kanshi Ram (1934–2006) politician and Founder of the BSP

Ram Manohar Lohia (1910–1967) Socialist leader

Rajagopalachari (1878–1972) First Indian Governor-General of India

Sam Manekshaw (1914–2008) Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army

Baba Amte (1914–2008) social worker

Ela Bhatt (1933-2022) founder Self-Employed Women’s Association of India

Vinoba Bhave (1895–1982) advocate of nonviolence

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903–1988) freedom fighter

Ravi Shankar (1920–2012) musician

M. S. Subbulakshmi (1916–2004) Carnatic vocalist

M. F. Husain (1915–2011) painter

Bismillah Khan (1916–2006) musician

R. K. Narayan (1906–2001) writer

R. K. Laxman (1921–2015) cartoonist, illustrator, and humorist

B. K. S. Iyengar (1918–2014) founder of Iyengar Yoga

Amitabh Bachchan (b. 1942) film actor

Raj Kapoor (1924–1988) director of Hindi cinema

Kamal Haasan (b. 1954) actor, director

Satyajit Ray (1921–1992) filmmaker

A. R. Rahman (b. 1967) composer and philanthropist

Kishore Kumar (1929–1987) film playback singer

Dilip Kumar (1922–2021) actor, producer and activist

Dev Anand (1923–2011) producer and actor

Mohammad Rafi (1924–1980) singer

Homi Bhabha (1909–1966) nuclear physicist

Dhirubhai Ambani (1932–2002) business tycoon, founder of Reliance Industries

Verghese Kurien (1921–2012) social entrepreneur

Ghanshyam Das Birla (1894–1983) businessman

N. R. Narayana Murthy (b. 1946) IT industrialist

Vikram Sarabhai (1919–1971) scientist

M. S. Swaminathan (1925–2023) geneticist

Ramnath Goenka (1904–1991) newspaper publisher

Amartya Sen (b. 1933) philosopher and economist

E. Sreedharan (b. 1932) civil engineer

Kapil Dev (b. 1959) cricketer

Sunil Gavaskar (b. 1949) cricketer

Dhyan Chand (1905–1979) hockey player

Viswanathan Anand (b. 1969) chess Grandmaster

Milkha Singh (1929–2021) sprinter


A list of 100 names was presented to and compiled by a 28-member jury composed of actors, writers, sportspersons, entrepreneurs, and men and women of distinction in their fields. This jury included N. Ram (former Editor-In-Chief of The Hindu), Vinod Mehta (Editor-in-Chief of Outlook), Soli Sorabjee (Former Attorney General of India), Sharmila Tagore (Bollywood actress and former Chairperson of the Censor Board of India), Harsha Bhogle (sports), Chetan Bhagat (author), Ramachandra Guha (historian), Shashi Tharoor (politician and author), Nandan Nilekani, Rajkumar Hirani, Shabana Azmi and Arun Jaitley.

They finalized a list of the top 50 nominees, which was released to the public on 4 June 2012, by CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai. A three-way process was then used to assess a top ten, in which equal weight was given to the votes of the jury, an online poll, and a market survey conducted by the Nielsen Company. 7,129,050 people participated in this phase of the online poll. Public voting was conducted from 4 to 25 June, with the final top ten were announced on 3 July. A second round of voting followed, using the same method as the first, lasting from 1 July to 1 August.

Individuals were able to cast votes either by visiting www.thegreatestindian.in or by calling a unique number given to each of the nominees. Nearly 20,000,000 people voted in this round of the survey. The announcement of the winner was made on 11 August, with a special finale, hosted by Amitabh Bachchan and featuring other Indian celebrities, airing on 14 and 15 August (Independence Day).


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