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EDITORIAL: 16-31 July 2002

Salaam, Shri Kalam

We are returning to the subject of Mr Abdul Kalam as candidate for coming presidential election because we think the rather detailed examination of the subject in our last issue left some room for further discourse. So here we go.

There has been quite a lot of brouhaha over his Muslim religious identity in the media over the last few weeks. Interestingly, the emphasis on his religion came largely from the Sangh and its myriad affiliates. That was at the height of the shame of Gujarat, when the chorus of denunciation of the BJP government in Gujarat and BJP-led government at the Centre had reached its crescendo.

The special Sangh effort to emphasise Shri Kalamís Muslim identity was obviously meant to demonstrate BJPís secular credentials to the world. That was like saying, "See, we are not anti-Muslim as the media tell you. Had we been anti-Muslim, we would not field Abdul Kalam, a Muslim, as our candidate for the highest position in the land."

And that went well with the BJP-RSS-VHP line that Gujarat was the handiwork of Pakistanís Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The argument went like this: Godhra Muslims are ISI agents. They had burnt down a rail coach to ignite a larger Hindu -Muslim conflagration all over Gujarat. The prime minister said, "Had there been no Godhra, there would have been no Gujarat." Paraphrasing that, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said Gujarat was the inevitable result of Godhra as "every action has an equal and opposite reaction," a la Isaac Newton.

As the two governments thought Gujarat pogrom was "inevitable," they did not try to do much about it. However, once the world saw their true colours, they had to try to do something about their secular credentials. No one would be better suited to wipe the Gujarat stigma off the face of Sangh than Shri Kalam. That made quite a few people question his "Islamic" credentials. However, we never suspected Shri Kalamís Islamic credentials and never supported people either emphasising his religious identity or doubting it.

The legal Islamic position is that whoever says he (or, she) is a Muslim, is a Muslim. No questions asked. Period. Islam does not allow anyone to look closely into other peopleís lives. For us, Shri Kalam is a Muslim. And that is that. The only point here is that Shri Kalam does not necessarily have to be a Muslim as, say, Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma did not have to be a Hindu, to be the president of our republic.

Our president does not represent Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis or animists. He (so far all of them have been a ďheĒ) represents us all. Our religious identity does not matter to him as citizens. He is the First Citizen of India. Our citizenship is not based on religion. Thus all discourse on Shri Kalamís religion is beside the point.

Recently, a foreign radio asked one of our MG colleagues, "Donít you think Mr Kalam would have been more useful to your country in the lab than in Rashtrapati Bhawan?" The answer was both yes and no. Yes, because a scientist (especially one who is a bachelor too, as Shri Kalam is) loves his lab more than his home. Theoretically, this would hold good even if the "home" turns out to be the majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan. And no, because Shri Kalam would possibly make as good a president as any of his predecessors.

What is the basis of our thinking that he would make a good president? Because he is well-educated, a good leader of men, a man of extraordinary integrity -- he does not drink, has a frugal lifestyle, believes in Indiaís multicultural ethos, holds the national interest over every other interest. That is why.

However, we donít agree with some of Kalam supporters who think that just because he has made our N-bombs (that is not wholly true, as he is only one of our many illustrious scientists) he should be made our president. That way Oppenheimer, not Truman, should have been the US president in 1945.

And what happens to our defence labs, in the meanwhile? Well, there are quite a few good scientists to look after them.

Like most Indians, we would be happy to see Shri Kalam in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. That does not mean that we donít love his rival, Lakshmi Sehgal, a heroine of Indiaís independence struggle. She would have made as good a president of the republic as any other. However, electoral politics being electoral politics, we are not going to see her occupying the highest office in the land. We are happy that we donít have a paucity of deserving individuals.

Meanwhile, our Salaam to Shri Kalam. Soon he is going to be our president, whatever our religious identity. And from now on, let us forget that he, too, has a religion.

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