Guys.... this is the lead story in 'The Week.' More tomorrow. My daughter Arundhati leaves tonight.... my arm and a leg will be missing till I see her again.
People change. Values don’t. “Value” is such a loaded 5-letter word. Difficult to define, difficult to compute. Yet, this much we do know - certain ‘values’ are universal …. eternal. Those are the ones that cut across cultures and centuries and cannot be challenged – truth, loyalty, goodness, honour. When it comes to compiling a list of India’s Most Valuable, it is virtually impossible to draw it up in an all-inclusive fashion.
It is all about branding.Isn’t everything these days? Companies are brands, products are brands, shockingly enough, even people are brands . Perfectly sensible marketing professionals speak earnestly about Ratan Tata’s personal brand equity and I wonder if that makes him squirm…. or is he realistic enough to see it from a business leader’s perspective: personal brand equity = value addition to the company’s stock. True enough in his case. Just like one cannot separate Bill Gates from Microsoft, Ratan is TATA. And TATA is him.
It wasn’t always this way in India. Ratan Tata is in a unique postion given the Tata legacy. But there are countless other self-styled tycoons who believe business credibility is but a click away. Such ‘personalities’ walk around flaunting price tags , labels… brazenly boasting about their net worth … buying their way into and out of situations. Even a decade ago, such crass conduct would have been frowned upon, even despised. But in today’s far more upfront age of aggressive self- promotion, if a famous person does not cash in on individual equity, he\she is considered dumb … out of it. Media , of course, has played a key role in promoting personality cults.
In this context, those making the short list for the country’s Most Valuable People, are the ones with the highest profile. People who have impacted one billion lives directly or indirectly during the past one year. The same people watched by an awestruck nation giving nightly gyaan on tv channels , those whose mug shots peddle products ranging from cameras to condoms, those who bring glory to India in the sports arena and most significantly, those who influence policy, those who entertain the masses via music, cinema, tv. So long as the average Indian can put a face to the name, the fame game is on. Often , the actual achievements of the person being enthusiastically applauded by the masses is unknown even to those fans clapping away. But that’s a matter of detail…. nobody minds. We love our icons . We worship our heroes. We adore success.
It has often been said that the biggest marketing guru India produced remains Mahatma Gandhi. The man and his message are both alive and well a little more than six decades on. Gandhi gave Indians their spine back. His ‘product’ was independence. His ‘byproduct’ – self-respect. We have been patiently waiting for the New Mahatma to rescue us in the 21st century. We may have to wait much longer. But, why despair? There are several ‘amazing minds’ in our midst, who influence our lives on a daily basis. These are towering individuals … well, most of them. For better or worse, we need it identify and acknowledge their contribution in their chosen disciplines. The Editors at ‘The Week’ have done a comprehensive job of putting the list together. Whether it’s Kapil Sibal who will be shaping the minds of Young India by placing education right at the top of India’s priorities, or M.S. Swaminathan who will ensure no Indian goes hungry if he can help it, these are the two most important individuals on the list. A nation that accepts the existence of even one hungry stomach in a population of over a billion people, is a nation that must hang its head in shame.India cannot afford to boast about a single other achievement so long as there are starvation deaths .For every child who dies of malnutrition, there is collective responsibility involved. Since education cannot be forced down a gullet that is denied access to even clean drinking water, forget edible food, perhaps it is time to link the two most critical programmes of feeding and educating the masses in a more meaningful way. Everything else will fall into place, as it has in other countries that made both a top priority before launching space programmes , putting men on the moon or going nuclear.
India has led a pretty schizophrenic existence throughout its complex history. But never has that been as apparent as it is today. We know – or claim to know – what’s ‘good for us’. And yet, we seem paralysed to do something concrete about it. We ‘know’ religious differences get us nowhere ( main reason for the Congress win and BJP defeat in the last election), and yet we are afraid to move against those who foster hatred between communities. Narendra Modi, with his loyal and considerable fan base can be converted into a ‘valuable asset’ if only his mindset miraculously changes.That is one ‘conversion’ nobody will object to! He is dynamic and bold. His vision for a prosperous Gujarat has attracted unprecedented investments. And yet, his party received a resounding slap on its face when the voter snubbed them. Modi as P.M.??? Not for a long, long while. Rahul Gandhi’s immense appeal to the youth of India can be better harnessed if he frees himself from Dynasty and strikes out on his own. Rahul represents Tolerant India – forward-thinking and progressive. Growth-driven and ambitious.His secular stand has won him the hearts of the nation. Rahul could very well emerge as the People’s Politician.
So long as we remain passive bystanders and tolerate those fanning communal strife, so long as we silently endorse the merchants of terror, we cannot dream of real progress – the sort that isn’t measured by the GDP or Sensex swings. Perhaps the BJP has woken up to the country’s real compulsions, which extend well beyond mandir-masjid politics.
Market marshals talk about more transparency. SBI Chairman O.P.Bhat, super brains like Anil Kakodkar, along with the SEBI Chairman C. Bhave , control India’s financial destiny and positioning in the complex, volatile world of finance. Never mind that Pranab Mukherjee’s uninspiring Budget speech didn’t bring cheer to the aam aadmi, India is still far better off than several developed countries reeling from the economic meltdown . We need sharp strategists to manage our domestic economy during this tricky phase, and we are lucky to have them.But somewhere in this complicated numbers game, we cannot afford to neglect the two issues that directly affect each and every Indian – national security and terrorism.This is where Manmohan Singh’s vision and leadership could propel India into a more secure zone. Unfortunately, so far, his contribution has been either too subtle or too sage for it to have made the required difference. The most recent Balochistan Blunder has focused the nation’s attention on how ineptly and unconvincingly his appointee S.M Krishna undertook the crucial damage control exercise….much to the horror and embarrassment of the watching world. He fell flat on his face…. he is still there.
We like to believe Indians have made a fantastic breakthrough in International cinema, thanks to the publicity generated by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ which is NOT an Indian film to begin with. But what it has done is gift A.R.Rahman’s genius to the world. This modest musician has waited a long time for universal recognition. It is now his – Rahman is in a league of his own with no real competition, either here or overseas. He is a genuine, gilt-edged ‘Valuable’ – self-made and supreme.
Our sports stars largely remain indigenous phenomena, loved by a cricket-mad nation…. And furiously commercialized by their keepers. They are indeed valuable, but it is high time we looked beyond Brand Sachin or Brand Dhoni ( a little tarnished at present), and recognized the contribution of those incredible, small town boys from under- privileged, rural homes who have made the country proud on innumerable international occasions. Leander Paes , dubbed a ‘Tennis Statesman’ needs to be acknowledged for his grit and endurance. Right now, however , sports lovers are looking keenly at a new star on the horizon - Saina Nehwal, ranked number 6 in the world. This plucky 19 -year-old (who recently battled chicken pox), has single- handedly revived Badminton in India, and is expected to do well at the upcoming BWF World Championship.
The time has definitely come to honour our ‘Most Valuable’ citizens - those anonymous Jawans who risk their lives for us, guard our borders, defend us fiercely, and remain the most undervalued citizens of the country. Our grateful ‘salaams’ to our Armed Forces as we salute India’s unsung heroes on this important day.