Who is the greatest filmstar? Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan or Sharukh Khan?
Who is the finest Indian batsman of all time? Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar?
Who was a better prime minister? Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Atal Behari Vajpayee?
Fascinating questions, each igniting fierce debate.
Comparing stars across generations is tough, but what when you decide to choose between achievers in a calendar year? Frankly, it gets even tougher. Which is why the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year 2007 promises to be the contest to beat all contests. This is not reality television, this is the real thing: this is, arguably, the most solid recognition of individual achievement in the country.
You might turn around and suggest that there are many other awards, so what makes the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year so different?
First, it's the nature of the award that makes it stand out from the clutter. The CNN-IBN award is not a celebrity circus, nor is it a popularity contest. It is not about "stardom" that is the mantra of page three India. Nor is simply about celebrating the newsmakers of the day. A Joseph Stalin or an Adolf Hitler could be Time magazine's Men of the Year because they were seen to have created the maximum news impact in their time. They were being recognised, not honoured. The CNN-IBN awards are about honour, that goes beyond acknowledging news-making skills.
Second, it's the process involved in choosing the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year that makes it so special. Most awards are chosen in an opaque manner, where we remain uncertain of the methodology involved. The CNN-IBN Indian of the Year awards involve a rigorous and transparent process of selection, with checks and balances at every stage. SMS and Internet polling is an element, but it cannot hijack the process. Viewers are a part of the process, so is an electoral college of eminent Indians, drawn from diverse ideological moorings. And there is also a jury comprising individuals who have built a reputation for personal integrity. A three-tier process of viewers, eminent citizens and jury members: which other award can claim to be more representative of a diversity of opinion, with requisite checks and balances at each stage?
Finally, the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year is different because it embodies the spirit and values of a news channel with a difference. At CNN-IBN, news is a passion, a commitment to excellence in journalism. Good journalism is fair, fearless and always in the public interest. The unswerving commitment to public interest is reflected in the emphasis on the award for public service, a category which is unique to the CNN-IBN awards. In a glamour-struck world, the ability to recognise and salute the anonymous Indian is part of what makes these awards special. Last year, for example, Arvind Kejriwal, the moving spirit behind the Right to Information Act was on the same platform as a Manmohan Singh, both award winners in their respective categories.
The year 2006 was a beginning, 2007 promises to be even more exciting, if only because the competition is even fiercer. And the criteria for choosing winners even more exacting. Should our politician of the year be based on electoral triumphs alone? Should our sportsperson of the year be about team glory or individual achievement? Should our entertainer of the year be about box office glory or impact on the street? Should our overseas Indian of the year be about global presence or breaking another barrier? Should our businessperson of the year be about market capitalisation or entrepreneurial genius? And in a country of a billion Indians, who is really a public service achiever? Many questions, complex arguments, hopefully an eventual consensus.
So, as the nominees roll out over the next few days, here's inviting each and every one of you to join us in this celebration of the Indian spirit, of Indian achievement. Share your thoughts, your choices with us. After all, the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year must belong to each and every one of us.
To participate in online voting log on to www.cnnibnindianoftheyear.com, the official website for the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year awards. You can also log on to www.ibnlive.com to participate in the voting. Alternately, you can participate in mobile voting by SMSing 'IOTY' to 52622.