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The pathbreakers

While describing two extra­ordinary pathbreakers who changed the world, US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr obser­ved, “Man has thought twice in our century, once with Albert Einstein and then with Mahatma Gandhi. Einstein’s thought transformed the understanding of the physical world, Gandhi’s thought transformed the understanding of the political world.” Einstein himself would say of Gandhi, “In our time of utter moral decadence, Gandhi was the only true statesman to stand for a higher human relationship in our political sphere. Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked the earth.”

What made Gandhi one of the most influential personalities of the era? Harvard psychologist Howard Gar­dner, in his book Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, puts Gandhi in the rare category of a visionary leader who, in his definition, is “not content to relate a current story or to reactivate a story drawn from a recent past. This individual actually creates a new story, one not known to most individuals before, and achieves at least a measure of success to conveying this story effectively to others”. Who else does Gardner put in this category? Jesus, Buddha and Prophet Muhammad!

So while the western scientific world spearheaded by Einstein was busy building, via the Manhattan Project, the most destructive weapon humankind had ever invented—the atom bomb—to thwart the for­ces led by Adolf Hitler in World War II, Gandhi was evolving a whole new weapon to overthrow the greatest colonial power in the world: Ahimsa, the principle of non-violence. Gandhi believed the might of the British empire would not be able to suppress the infinitely superior moral and spiritual force that a peaceful resistance would generate. As he said, “The forces of the spirit are ever progressive and endless. Its full expression makes it unconquerable to the world.” Gandhi was proved right when India gained Independence on August 15, 1947, largely through the peaceful satyagraha and non-cooperation that he spearheaded. In doing so, he inspired a whole generation of leaders, from Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama.

To mark India’s 75th Independence Day, INDIA TODAY deci­ded to feature, along with Gandhi, 114 pathbreakers from many walks of life who created their own enthralling narratives and made a difference to the nation’s growth and development. Whether in politics, business, science, defence, art, entertainment or leisure, these extraordinary leaders have much in common: they have amazing clarity and energy, are not afraid to pursue a bold vision, are willing to overcome any obstacle to achieve it, are rebels in their own right, are not rule-bound, think differently and are virtually unstoppable in their mission to change the status quo.

Instead of a clinical listing of their achievements, we decided to request prominent individuals acquainted with their work to give us their insights on these outstanding men and women, especially what made them tick. Many write that the path to fulfilment for these leaders was not easy. Mother Teresa’s biographer Navin Chawla points out that the greatest fear she initially had to overcome was of the humiliation of begging for food and medicines for the needy. Yet by the time she died in 1997, she had established a multinational order of compassion for the destitute across 123 countries. She once observed, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” In the following pages, we bring you extraordinary narratives that will surely inspire new generations to emulate these pathbreakers.


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