The Present

The Future

Bipan Chandra

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The wellknown historian on the ten greatest leaders of this millennium

Rajaraja Chola I (985 -1018) was the founder of the strongest state structure in early medieval India. He conquered the whole of the peninsula, south of the Kaveri region and extended his kingdom to Elam (modern Sri Lanka) and parts of today's Mysore and Andhra. His greatest achievement was the administrative machinery he set up for this region. In effect, the literary imagination of the Sangham poets, which spoke of a Tamil macro-region, was made an administrative reality by Rajaraja. The notion of this region as sharing a common political structure was to continue throughout the successive periods till the colonial period. He built the towering Tanjavur Brihadisvara temple which he named after himself as Rajarajeshwaram.

Akbar Akbar, the Great (1542-1605) was along with Asoka the greatest of India's monarchs. He was the real founder of the Mughal empire which unified diverse regions of India, north of the Vindhyas and gave them a liberal and humane administrative system. With the help of his revenue minister, Todar Mal, he established a scientific land revenue (tax) system which has lasted in its basics till recent years.

Eclectic in his religious and philosophic views, he believed in and practised liberal and tolerant principle of Suleh-Kul (peace for all). He made significant contribution to the development of the composite Indian culture, especially in the fields of music, painting, architecture and literature.

Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) was the central figure in the great social awakening of India during the 19th century which gradually transformed India into a modern nation. He was a believer in a rational and scientific approach and in the principles of human dignity and social equality of all men and women. He founded the Brahma Sabha, which came to be later known as Brahmo Samaj, and organised a powerful agitation against the practice of Sati. He opposed the rigidity, inequality, oppression and social divisiveness associated with the caste system, and stoutly championed women's rights.

He was also the first Indian leader to start a public agitation on political questions. Keen to make Indian languages vehicles for intellectual discourse, he translated the Vedas and Upanishads into Bengali and brought out several journals and pamphlets in Bengali. He was a pioneer of Indian journalism and brought out journals in Persian, Hindi and English to spread scientific, literary and political knowledge among the people.

Dadabhai Naoroji Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917), known as the Grand Old Man of India, was modern India's first economic thinker and critic of colonialism and was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. In his writings and political agitation he showed that the basic cause of India's poverty lay in the British exploitation of India and the drain of its wealth to Britain. This critique was to form the core of nationalist political attack on colonialism during the mass phase of the freedom struggle.

He was also the first Indian political leader to declare 'Swaraj' to be the objective of nationalist politics. The high moral standards he set in politics were to inspire Gandhiji and other political successors.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 -1948) was perhaps the greatest Indian of all times. Rooted in traditional Indian culture, yet he was deeply influenced by modern thought. A great leader of the masses, he mobilised millions to play an active role in the freedom struggle and made it perhaps the greatest mass movement in world history. He, of course, led the movement to success. A votary of non-violence, he evolved concrete and viable forms of struggle for political and social emancipation. He declared non-violence to be based on utter fearlessness and a weapon not of the weak but of the strong and the brave. He maintained the highest standards of morality in politics.

He stood for the social liberation of women, the end of caste discrimination and oppression, opposition to communalism in all its forms, total commitment to secularism, democracy and civil liberties, and application of reason to all areas of life. He had the vision of a world where all conflicts would be resolved without the use of violence. His ideas of nonviolent struggle for social and political emancipation have proved to be of abiding value in the popular struggle of people the world over.

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856 -1920) was one of the most consistent revolutionary democrats that India produced in the course of its struggle for independence. He formed the strong middle link between the politics initiated by Dadabhai Naoroji and brought to fruitition by Gandhiji after 1918. He initiated the practice of the nationalists boldly going to jail for their convictions when he was jailed for one-and-half years in 1897 and six years in 1908 for his anti-imperialist writings.

He was the most active leader of the Swadeshi and Anti-Partition Movement of Bengal in 1905 outside the region, and initiated the militant and popular Home Rule Movement in 1916. He had deep faith in the political strength of the masses and argued that Indians themselves must work out their own political salvation. All his life he tried to bring the common people into the vortex of politics.

 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (1875-1950) was a major leader of India's freedom struggle. He organised two major model mass movements -- the Bardoli peasant satyagraha and the Non-Cooperation Movement in Gujarat. During the 1930s, he built the Congress party as a mass organisation which could later undertake the constitutional task of forming Congress ministries in the provinces in 1937. He played a major role in keeping the National Congress united and in avoiding a Right-Left split.

With great skill and masterful display of persuasion and pressure he successfully integrated with the Indian Union the hundreds of princely states, which formed nearly 40 per cent of the territory of colonial India. His role in consolidating Independent India in a critical period was unrivalled.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) was a major nationalist leader from 1906 to 1920 and the architect, along with Lokmanya Tilak, of the Lucknow Pact. Though adopting from 1920 a more communal stance, he retained strong moorings in anti-imperialist nationalism. However, from 1936, he reorganised the Muslim League around an extreme communal ideology -- the assertion of Muslims being a separate nation and Islam being in danger in a united India. At its 1940 session at Lahore, the League adopted the objective of forming a separate homeland for Indian Muslims which came to be known as Pakistan. Jinnah became the founder of the new state of Pakistan formed after the partition of India in 1947 and also its first governor-general.

Jawaharlal Nehru Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) spent the major part of his life fighting colonialism. He spent many years in colonial jails and gradually emerged as, next to Gandhiji, the most important leader of India's freedom movement, to which he gave a turn towards the Left and a socialist orientation. As the first prime minister of Independent India -- a position which he occupied for nearly 17 years -- he initiated self-reliant, independent economic development, defended and promoted national unity around the principle of 'unity in diversity', laid the foundations of a secular democratic and civil libertarian polity, and waged an intense struggle against communalism.

He also laid down a foreign policy based on independence, internationalism and national self-interest, even while simultaneously promoting world peace and anti-colonialism. Rejecting the capitalist developmental and civilisational perspective, he worked for and popularised the broad objective of the transformation of India into a socialist society based on equity, equality and social justice.

Indira Gandhi Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) was India's prime minister for over 15 years from 1966 to 1984 with a short gap between 1977 to 1979. She remained loyal to the Nehruvian objective of rapid economic development, and strengthened planning and public sector while maintaining a mixed economy and initiating the economic reform process in 1980.

She played a major role in making India economically, politically, culturally, technologically and militarily self-reliant and independent and in giving the country confidence in its ability to remain so. She kept India free of both the Cold War blocs and ensured that there was no successful overt or covert foreign interference in India's internal affairs.

Ideologically, she remained true to the national movement's secular tradition and consistently opposed communal forces. She also strengthened India's unity and held the country together during a difficult period. She played a crucial role in the liberation of Bangladesh. One blot on her political career was the imposition of the Emergency in June 1975; but she had the courage to lift it in January 1977 and hold a free and fair election which she lost.

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