Choosing a Top Ten list of personalities who transformed India is not an easy task as there have been several eminent people from various fields whose contribution have influenced or transformed lives in India.
It is easy to name political personalities as they have had a direct impact in shaping India but beyond politics, there have been other significant contributors. This list tries to recognise those contributors as well. It must be clarified here that this list does not make any claim to be the final word on the choice of names selected and will remain a point of debate with the reader. The names in the list are not ranked in any particular order.
Easily, the first choice for one who made the most impact in leading a nation to freedom. Not only were his actions significant at the time in mobilising masses, but also his commitment to the cause of non-violence and pursuit of the truth remains an inspiration to people in India and all over the world.
Given the title of ‘Gurudev’ by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore had been a towering source of inspiration for generations in the run up to India’s independence movement and remains an inspiration to millions even today. A writer, novelist, painter, and poet par excellence, he is credited with penning down India’s national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’. His famous poems ‘Ekla Chalo Re’ and ‘Where the mind is without fear’ continue to inspire and motivate people around the world over. In 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his ‘Gitanjali’. He was also conferred ‘Knighthood’ by the British, which he returned, post the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly referred to as ‘Babasaheb’, was a well-known lawyer, jurist, economist and a social reformer who played a significant part in the freedom movement. But it was his invaluable contribution in writing India’s Constitution that has shaped our nation since Independence and continues to hold it together.
An educated and articulate statesman, he championed the cause of Dalits and other underprivileged sections of society and continues to be a role model and inspiration in contemporary India. He was conferred the Bharat Ratna in recognition of his services in laying the foundation of a secure and progressive India.
Mother Teresa was born in what is today known as Macedonia, but her family was of Albanian descent. At the young age of 18, she committed her life to the cause of Christianity and left home to join Sisters of Loreto in Ireland. In 1929, she travelled to India which was to become her home for rest of her life. She founded the ‘Missionaries of Charity’ in Kolkata to serve the sick, destitute and disabled. She has been an example of true selfless compassion and dedication to the cause of those who are totally helpless. Mother Teresa has been an inspiration for selfless service for millions around the world and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
Sir C.V. Raman
Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman or C.V. Raman was a brilliant physicist and known for his pioneering research work in ‘light scattering’. It was his discovery of light changing its wavelength on entering a transparent material that led to the phenomenon being called ‘Raman Scattering’ and a result of the ‘Raman Effect’. His works subsequently inspired several other scientists that led to major scientific discoveries.
His contribution earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. He was also awarded the ‘Knighthood’ by the British Government and was later conferred the ‘Bharat Ratna’ by the Indian government. Among his most famous Indian students were Vikram Sarabhai and G.N. Ramachandran.
Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was a brilliant physicist and is widely accepted as the father of India’s Space Program. Born to a rich industrialist family, Vikram Sarabhai attended the University of Cambridge in UK and later pursued his Doctoral research under the guidance of Sir C.V. Raman. On his return to India in 1947, he set up the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, with financial help from family, friends and other charitable trusts. It was his initiative that saw India take its first steps in space research and was instrumental in establishing the Indian Space Research Organization, which continues to remain India’s premier scientific organisation in space research.
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata has been India’s most successful and admired industrialist, educationalist, philanthropist and most of all mentor and guardian to India’s most admired business house: TATA. Tata became the first Indian to receive a commercial pilot licence and launched Tata Airlines in 1932, which was later converted to Air India in 1946. He joined Tata & Sons as a trainee and went on to becoming the Chairman of Tata Sons. It was under his stewardship that the House of Tatas diversified into several successful businesses. It was under his watch that brand ‘TATA’ emerged as India’s most trusted and admired brand that represents integrity and excellence. His contributions in the field of business, education, research and social service earned him the ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 1992.
MS Swaminathan / Verghese Kurien
Dr. Swaminathan and Dr. Kurien share the space together for their invaluable contribution in the field of agriculture and dairy farming respectively.
Dr. Swaminathan, an agricultural geneticist, is known as the ‘Father of Indian Green Revolution’, for his invaluable contribution in developing high yielding variety of wheat at a time when India was going through one of its worst famines. His contribution saved millions in India from starvation and continues to show its impact today with India emerging self-sufficient in food grains and becoming a major producer of wheat.
Dr. Verghese Kurien shares this space with Dr. Swaminathan for his pioneering work in building the world’s largest dairy cooperative under the brand name: AMUL. Known as the ‘Father of India’s White Revolution’, he was directly responsible for transforming India from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s largest producer of milk.
Lata Mangeshkar is India’s best known playback singer and also known as the ‘Nightingale of India’. Lata’s voice has touched millions of people in India and around the world with her melodious voice and remains an inspiration and role model for budding singers worldwide. She was awarded the ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 2001.
Dhyan Chand / Sachin Tendulkar
This space again is shared between two ‘legends and icons’, both of whom led from the front with their natural talent and hard work in the sport of hockey and cricket respectively.
Dhyan Chand mesmerised the world with his wizardly moves with the hockey stick while dribbling his way through a hapless opposition. His mastery over the game of hockey helped India win three Olympic Gold Medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936. A rare face-to-face meeting in Adelaide with the great Australian cricketer, Sir Don Bradman, led the cricketer to remark ‘he scores goals like runs in cricket’. His contribution to the game of hockey remains unparalleled.
Sachin Tendulkar belonged to a different era and earned his spurs in an extremely competitive world of professional cricket. Much has been written about him and his achievements, but he makes the list for his ability to inspire the next generation of youth with his hard work, focus, dedication and humility.
There are several equally deserving individuals who could easily earn a place in the list, but then ‘10’ is too short a space to recognise them all.