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Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam suddenly resigned his office as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India on 10 November. He has said that he will devote himself to research, teaching and interaction with the youth in order to motivate them to work for a strong India. A world-renowned scientist, Dr Kalam has won many awards including India’s highest, Bharat Ratna as well as many honorary doctorates.

Born in 1931 at Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, Dr Kalam is an eminent aeronautical engineer. He was mainly responsible for propelling India into new frontiers of aerospace and missile technologies before moving to supervising the modernisation of defence know-how. India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) to launch Rohini Satellite in the near earth orbit and development of advanced technology guided missiles for the country’s defence were made possible essentially because of his inspiring leadership. Today India possesses five such missiles namely Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, Nag and Agni which introduced India to the exclusive club of a few countries who possess this advanced technology. 

To him also goes the credit of developing composite product technology at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and at Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) and establishing production centres for reinforced plastics. He has also established an advanced research centre for missile technology at Hyderabad. 

Dr Kalam was project director, SLV-3, at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), chief executive of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme at DRDL and from 1992 scientific adviser to the Defence Minister and secretary, Department of Defence Research and Development, director general, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). 

Dr Kalam is also the founder chairman of Society for Bio-medical Technology (SBMT) which promotes cost-effective medical systems as spin-off from Defence Technology. He is chairman of Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) that has brought out the national technological plan ‘Technology Vision: 2020.’

Western technology cartels, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), often used for political arm-twisting, spurred Dr Kalam and his team at the DRDO to work out a durable way out of external dependence. He believes that in the highly competitive world today, a nation is judged and respected for its indigenous technological strengths. As regards the Vision 2020 programme he said that it envisages the growth of the country in all direction - from farming to missile technology, field of life sciences to industry - and the goal set before the scientific community is to achieve 70 percent self-reliance in indigenous systems from the present 30 percent by 2005CE. 

Besides being an outstanding scientist, Dr Kalam possesses exemplary qualities of leadership. His capacity to inspire team work has been well-acknowledged and has contributed greatly to a highly successful career. He is an individual who can bridge the spectrum from frontline technology development to production.

Dr Kalam is often referred to as ‘father of Indian rockets.’ Incidentally, it was an Indian Muslim, Tipu Sultan, the tiger of Mysore, who invented the first rockets in the world during his wars against the British colonialists. Some of those rockets are still preserved in a museum in Greenwich.

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