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Kalam - India's next president 
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

APJ Abdul Kalam

New Delhi, 16 June: "Dreams float on an impatient wind, A wind that wants to create a new order. An order of strength and thundering of fire." - from a poem written by Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam 

Even before eminent nuclear and missile scientist Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s election to the highest office of the land is to be formalised in July, the verdict has already been announced in his favour. With almost all political parties in the country barring Left’s token opposition to "BJP's candidate," his election as the 12th President of the Republic of India is a foregone conclusion. But Dr Kalam’s journey to the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) at Raisina Hills in New Delhi from a poor hamlet on the seashores of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu is a miracle in every sense. 

During his early years Aavul Pakkir Jainulabdeen [Abdul Faqeer Zainul Abideen] Abdul Kalam had to pass through extremely difficult times. Kalam was born on 15 October, 1931 at Rameshwaram in a poor Muslim family of boatmen. To fend for himself and his family young Kalam used to sell newspapers at the Rameshwaram railway station. With great difficulty and in near penury Kalam completed his school years. He joined St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchi for B.Sc. degree in physics, mathematics and chemistry in 1950. 

Soon Kalam realised that physics was not his cup of tea and wanted to do aeronautical engineering instead. Though being selected for admission at the Madras Institute of Technology it was still difficult for him to complete his admission formalities as he lacked the required amount for admission fee and his poor father Jainulabdeen [Zainul Abideen] was clearly not in a position to shell out rupees 1,000, a large sum by the standards of those days and his background. 



Kalam leads a very simple, puritanical life. He does not read newspapers but is at home with the Internet. He has remained a bachelor not out of choice but because he could not spare time and take leave for the required formalities. As a hindsight he says that as a bachelor he has been able to devote himself fully to his mission. He is a known workaholic who could at times work round the clock. His normal workday is 16 hours even today. He believes that nothing is impossible in this world.



Reminiscing a vivid emotive account in his autobiography, Wings of Fire, Dr Kalam recounts, “At that time, my sister Zohra, stood behind me, mortgaging her gold bangles and chain. I was deeply moved by her determination to see me educated and by her faith in my abilities.” Eventually Kalam completed his degree in aeronautical engineering from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and never looked back. 

Kalam's first assignment was at Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD&P) of the ministry of defence as senior scientific assistant in 1958. It was under Kalam’s able guidance that INCOSPAR took the decision to set up the Equatorial Rocket Launching Station at Thumba in 1962. As a result of the untiring efforts by Kalam and his team, India’s first rocket, Nike-Apache, was launched on 21 November 1963. 

By now Kalam's abilities were recognised and he started to play a leading role in the field of rocket launching. Again on 20 November 1967, Rohini–75 rocket was launched under his leadership. Kalam’s vigorous efforts ensured that India was firmly in the rocket technology club.

The year 1968 witnessed the establishment of the Indian Rocket Society under Kalam’s tutelage. On 8 October 1972, successful testing of the RATO system Sukhoi-16 jet aircraft was performed. 

When Kalam was in the midst of performing his landmark experiments, he had to bear a number of personal losses. The death of his brother-in-law, Jalaluddin in 1974, and the passing away of his father Jainulabdeen and soon after the death of his mother had their own moments of personal suffering for Kalam. 

However, though moments of personal agony overtook Kalam, he was not to be deterred and was steadfast and firm in his resolve. It was the real moment of glory for the scientist when on 18 July 1980, India’s first satellite launch vehicle, SLV-3 lifted off from SHAR.

The grateful nation now acknowledged the services of Kalam to strengthen national defence. The Government of India bestowed Padma Bhushan award to Kalam on 25 January 1981. Later in February 1982 he was appointed as director of Defence Research & Development Lab (DRDL). 

Kalam was firm in his resolve to take the country to dizzy heights in space and defence technology. The second flight of Prithvi missile was launched in September 1988. Agni missile was successfully launched on 22 May 1989. This time the nation decided to honour Kalam with an even bigger national award. On 26 January 1990, he was conferred the Padma Vibhushan. 

In 1991, he received an honorary degree of doctor of science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. By now, Dr Kalam was now a national hero in the eyes of the nation as a result of the services he rendered to his nation. In 1997 Kalam was awarded India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, which is seldom given to a living person.

A man with a bit spiritual and more of a scientific tilt, Dr Kalam is an exponent of the Rudra Veena (a kind of classical musical instrument), something which is rare for a Muslim, but Dr Kalam’s father had no objection to Kalam sharing a relationship with the priests of Ramaswamy temple where he spent a lot of time as a child. He quotes with ease from both the Holy Quran and the Hindu religious text Bhagwad Gita. He is a poet too and writes poetry in his native Tamil language. 

Kalam’s analogy between science and spirituality is also interesting to note. Regarding these he says, “While science has a habit of questioning, spirituality is based on certain known principle. But, eventually, though the paths may be different, both are seeking the truth.” Other aspects of Dr Kalam’s life are startling too, especially in the light of the office which he is being selected for. Kalam does not have a television set at home. 

Kalam leads a very simple, puritanical life. He does not read newspapers but is at home with the Internet. He has remained a bachelor not out of choice but because he could not spare time and take leave for the required formalities. As a hindsight he says that as a bachelor he has been able to devote himself fully to his mission. He is a known workaholic who could at times work round the clock. His normal workday is 16 hours even today. He believes that nothing is impossible in this world.

A great achiever, Dr Kalam says that success does not come on a platter. For achieving success it is all the more necessary that the person must be single-minded, target-oriented and focused in his approach. Besides, tons of hard work, painstaking efforts and perseverance are required. In his autobiography Wings of Fire, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam says, “Those who cannot work with their hearts achieve but a hollow, half-hearted success that breeds bitterness all around. To succeed in your mission, you must have single-minded devotion to your goal. Man needs his difficulties because they are necessary to enjoy success. You have to dream before your dreams can come true. Life is a difficult game. You can win it only by retaining your birthright to be a person.”

Dr Kalam, now 71, has a 43-year-long career behind him. He has been associated with nearly every Indian technological milestone, from the first rocket launch vehicle, the first Indian satellite, the first strategic missile, to the Indian nuclear programme. Though, some political parties in India have opposed Dr Kalam’s candidature on the pretext that he is a misfit for the highest office as he has no "political" experience. But apart from this no one has been able to point a finger at him. 

He may lack "political" experience, but leadership comes naturally to Dr Kalam. He has already spent the past few years developing the concept of the India Millennium Missions (IMM) 2020 -- a blueprint for transforming India into a developed nation. 

Spelling out his plans, Dr Kalam says that the country needs an integrated action in five major areas. One, agriculture and food processing where we have to set a target of 360 million tonnes of food and agricultural production. Two, reliable and quality electricity supply for all. Three, education and healthcare for all. Four, information technology, which can also be used to promote education in remote areas. Five, strategic sectors: nuclear, space and defence technology. As such, these five areas are inter-related, and without their proper application India would not be able to achieve a viable progress. 

However, it must simply not be forgotten that only the previous year (2001) under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Dr Kalam was unceremoniously dropped from his post of principal scientific advisor to the government. He was victims of the games bureaucracy here plays. 

It is an undeniable fact that had not the barbaric BJP-sponsored anti-Muslim pogroms taken place in Gujarat, the political class would not have even thought about Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. It is only in the post-Gujarat scenario that a "Muslim" Kalam has suddenly become relevant to the rulers of Delhi.

Former prime minister and Janata Dal (S) leader HD Deve Gowda said on June 15 at Kochi that by electing Dr APJ Abdul Kalam as President of India, the prime minister and the RSS family could not "wash off the sins committed on the Muslim community" in Gujarat. 

Dr Kalam, who is teaching at Chennai's Anna University at present, has expressed his keen desire to continue with his research and teaching activities and motivating the youth even after assuming the highest office. The eminent scientist also wants to see India as a member of the "Group of Eight" developed countries and says the country needs creativity and role models in leadership who can inspire the younger generation. "The nation requires role models in leadership who can inspire youngsters. There is no dearth of resources and talent in this country but what we need is more creativity," Kalam said.
— With inputs from Danish A Khan
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