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India's 60 greatest icons

Sixty successful men and women without whom the country would not be where it is today.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2007 02:38 IST

Hindustan Times

Sixty successful men and women without whom the country would not be where it is today:

Rain power
Homi Bhabha:
Often called the father of India’s nuclear weapons programme; he established the Atomic Energy Commission of India in 1948.

CV Raman:
This Indian physicist was the first Asian scientist to be awarded the Nobel prize in 1930 for his work on the ‘Scattering of Light and Raman effect’.

Vikram Sarabhai:
He founded ISRO and is called the father of India’s space programme.

MS Swaminathan:
Better known as the “Father of India’s green revolution”, Dr Swaminathan was one of three Indians on Time magazine’s 1999 list of the “20 most influential Asian people of the 20th century”.

Amartya Sen:
Sen is one of the greatest intellectuals and economists of modern India. He was awarded the Noble prize in 1998 for his model of welfare economics.

Romila Thapar:
This Indian historian’s most read works include Asoka and the Decline of the Maurya, A History of India Volume One, and Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300.

Bhiku Parekh:
Born in the small village of Amalsad, he is today one of the world’s most renowned political scientists. He was elected British Asian of the Year in 1992.

Jagdish Bhagwati:
Regarded as one of the foremost international trade economists, he has worked with Kofi Annan’s high-level advisory group and as external advisor to the Director General of WTO.

Order, order
E Sreedharan:
Architect of the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro, this mild mannered 71-year-old civil engineer was named among the most outstanding Asians by Time magazine and awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honour by the French government in 2005.

Verghese Kurien:
He was the brain behind the world’s largest dairy development programme, Operation Flood. Think of him when you see Amul.

James Michael Lyngdoh:
The former chief election commissioner captured the country’s imagination when he called politicians “a cancer”. He went to win the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

PN Bhagwati:
As Chief Justice, he initiated the Public Interest Litigation and legal aid programmes.

Leaders all
Jawaharlal Nehru:
He is easily independent India’s most charismatic and successful politician. Nehru remains the role model for young aspirants to high public offices.

Jyoti Basu:
Ended career as the longest serving chief minister in India and perhaps the longest serving head of a democratically elected communist government anywhere in the world.

The first dalit woman to become the chief minister of any Indian state, has since been successfully elected as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times now.

In his journey from an actor to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, he acquired a cult following and a temple was devoted to him in Chennai.

Cinema, cinema
Guru Dutt:
This doyen of Indian cinema started out as a telephone operator and is remembered for his genre bending films such as Pyaasa and Kagaz ke phool.

Raj Kapoor:
The Showman of Hindi Cinema established his own studio, R.K. Films, at 24 and became the youngest film director of his time.

Amitabh Bachchan:
Bollywood hasn’t seen a superstar like the Angry Young Man. And it will never find a Busy Old Man like him.

Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, he started off as a bus conductor. Made more than 160 Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi and Bengali movies.

Shabana Azmi:
This natural actress is known for her trend-setting performances in experimental cinema.

Satyajit Ray:
Called the Giant of Indian cinema; he was felicitated with the Lifetime Achievement Oscar for his contribution to cinema in 1992.

Mira Nair:
Pioneering the genre of films expressing NRI angst, her first movie Salaam Bombay won 25 international awards.

Shah Rukh Khan


King Khan as he is popuarly known is the reigning superstar of the Indian film industry.

Let’s play
Sachin Tendulkar:
Or Sunil Gavaskar? Difficult choice. Gavaskar was the first cricketer to overtake Don Bradman, for many decades the God of Cricket. And then came Sachin and he overtook everyone, smashing every record in sight. Or, is your choice Kapil Dev?

Prakash Padukone:
His wining streak started in 1972, peaked winning the All-England badminton championship.

Bachendri Pal:
She became the first Indian woman (and the fifth in the world) to scale Mt. Everest in 1984.

Milkha Singh:
Before becoming famous as the “Flying Sikh”, he was rejected from the army thrice. On finally joining, he went on to hold the Olympic 400m record.

PT Usha:
She missed the bronze by 1/100th of a second in the 1984 Olympics. Two years later, she dominated the 1986 Asian Games.

Michael Ferreira:
This “Bombay Tiger” created history in 1978 by becoming the first amateur to cross the 1,000-point barrier by making a new world record break of 1,149.

Company affairs
GD Birla:
Ghanshyam Dass Birla was the founder of the Birla industrial empire that spanned everything from jute bags to cars. He was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi during the Independence movement.

JRD Tata:
Aviator, industrialist and free-market evangelist, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was a grand patriarch of modern India’s Tata business empire.

Dhirubhai Ambani:
Started his career selling bhajias and filling gas. Today his Reliance India Ltd is India’s largest private sector company.

NR Narayan Murthy:
This soft-spoken engineer created Infosys, India’s first software company to pioneer the concept of offshore software development.

Lakshmi Mittal:
Born into a poor Rajasthani mily, he is today the world’s largest steel maker and the fifth richest man in the world.

Sunil Bharti Mittal:
Started by making crankshafts for local bicycle manufacturers at the age of 18. Today he heads the $9.5-billion Bharti group that runs India’s largest GSM-based mobile phone service.

Vinod Khosla:
Co-founded Sun Microsystems at 27. He is now one of the most influential and richest people in America.

Ramp it up
Persis Khambatta:
A Miss India at 15, she became the first Indian model to breakthrough international modeling, drawing a contract with none other than Revlon and playing lead roles in Hollywood films such as Star Trek.

Ritu Kumar:
Pioneer of the fashion industry and the boutique culture in India, she dressed international style icons such as late Princess Diana.
life and letters

Salman Rushdie:
His Midnight’s Children made him famous and won him a Booker in 1981. His 1988 book the Satanic Verses, however, made him a marked man.

Amitava Ghosh:
Best known for his works The Hungry Tide and The Shadow Lines, he has established himself as one of the finest prose writers of his generation of Indian writing in English.

Khushwant Singh


One of the most prominent journalists of India, he is known for his biting humour. Editor of Yojana and The Illustrated Weekly, at 92 he continues to write his weekly column, “With Malice towards One and All”.

MF Hussain:
Today India’s highest-paid painter, he started off painting cinema hoardings.

Mallika Sarabhai:
This multifaceted performer successfully wears many hats. She has won many accolades such as the French Palme d'Or.

Girish Karnad


This playwright, actor and director is the latest recipient of Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honour conferred in India.

Pump it up
Starting as a car mechanic, he is an established poet, director, lyricist and playwright.

Pandit Ravi Shankar:
Dubbed the “Godfather of world music” by none other than The Beatles, this sitar legend introduced Indian classical music to the West.

MS Subbulakshmi:
This child prodigy released her first recording at the age of 10 and went on to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the UN General Assembly.

Mohammad Rafi:
Indeed the best singer of all times, he inspired many budding artists and lives on today through his songs like Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho and Baharon Phool Barsao.

Lata Mangeshkar:
Dubbed the Nightingale of India, she has sung in over 20 Indian languages and is only the second Indian singer to have received the Bharat Ratna after MS Subbulakshmi.

Kiran Bedi:
She began her career as a Political Science lecturer at Amritsar’s Khalsa College for Women. In 1972 she became the first woman to join the IPS and went to win the Magsaysay award.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw:
This highly decorated war veteran fought in five wars, starting from the Second World War to the three wars after India’s independence. His finest hour: the 1971 victory.

Rakesh Sharma:
He was the first Indian to go into space. After retiring he worked on the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft programme.

Rameshwar Nath Kao:
This legendary Indian spymaster set up R&AW on then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s instructions in 1968 as an entity separate from the Intelligence Bureau.

Life changers
His radical ideas on sex and critique of organised religion and Gandhi made him both popular and notorious.

Ela Bhatt:
Moved by the plight of self-employed women, she created Self-Employed Women’s Association (or SEWA), south Asia’s first labour and trade union for women workers in the informal sector.

Mother Teresa:
She spent more than 40 years of her life in India ministering to the needs of the most marginalised. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she was beatified by the Pope.

First Published: Aug 10, 2007 02:01 IST