Missile Man – An Advocate of Peace

When APJ Abdul Kalam stepped into office in 2002 as the 11th president of India, he was known as the “Missile-man.” He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, in 1997 for his pioneering role in India’s missile programme.

It is indeed a strange irony that the very man, with whose name, missile - symbolizing war - was linked, has left behind the legacy of a strong advocate of peace. It seems difficult to link the two highly contradictory terms at one point.

During an exclusive interview (May 2004), the question was posed to him regarding this contradiction. He replied, “For peace, one has to be strong enough to defend oneself.” “Missiles are necessary for this strength that leads to peace,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Kalam always defended India’s nuclear status. He is credited for playing a crucial role in the development of Agni and Prithvi missiles and successful nuclear weapon tests of India on May 11, 1998. India has decided to name its first hypersonic missile, which will travel at a speed of 8,575 kmph, after him. BrahMos-II (K), a cruise missile capable of taking out hardened targets such as underground bunkers and weapon storage facilities at seven times the speed of sound (Mach 7), is being developed by the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace. The K in the name is for Kalam.

Kalam became popular among Indians at large, even before he had completed his term as President. He was known as the people’s president. His approach towards problematic issues focussed on resolving them by reaching out to the basic roots that had probably led to their emergence. He said that development was the best defence against terrorism. “Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and discrimination are some factors that lead to the frustration which contributes to terrorism,” he said. While addressing an international parliamentary conference in New Delhi in 2003, he stated, “Nations have been destroyed by war. Has the world eliminated terrorism? No. Not at all.” He posed the question, “Is there a solution?” During the interview, he emphasised the need to address root causes of terrorism causing “frustration, anger and violence.”

If everyone lived in harmony, there would be lesser reasons leading to frustration, anger and violence. In Kalam’s opinion, living in harmony meant everyone living in dignity, with the opportunity to develop themselves. In doing so, the village can actually be a model for the rest of society. “There is greater harmony in villages,” he said.

With respect to role of media, Kalam expressed in the interview, “The press should not be so obsessed with negative news.” He laid emphasis on the need for Indian press to give more importance to constructive news relevant to rural India. “Seventy percent of our population lives in villages” and there are a thousand times more villages than towns, he said. “The value-system of news needs to change, become more development-related, with greater importance given to rural India,” Kalam said. He also cited a rare instance when in the international media news of a terrorist incident was overshadowed by a report on a “farmer’s success.”

Just as Kalam linked missiles with peace, during his addresses, he urged people to stop associating any religion with terrorism, missiles with war and sufferings with defeat. “Suffering is the essence of success,” he emphasised.

Kalam was also not in favour of death sentences. Out of 25 mercy petitions, Kalam received, he rejected one and commuted another to life.

In his book, Turning Points: A Journey Through Challenges, Kalam expressed, “One of the more difficult tasks for me as President was to decide on the issue of confirming capital punishments awarded by the courts after exhausting all processes of appeals. As a substantial number of cases have been pending in Rashtrapati Bhavan for many years, it is one inherited task that no President would feel happy about.”

Referring to a study he had undertaken, Kalam said, “This study revealed to my surprise that almost all the cases which were pending had a social and economic bias. This gave me an impression that we were punishing the person who was least involved in the enmity and who did not have a direct motive for committing the crime.” In his opinion, courts hearing death cases should alert law enforcing agencies “to intelligently find out the source of sustenance of the individual who is being punished and that of his family.”

“This kind of analysis may lead to the real person and the motive which has led to the crime. We are all the creation of God. I am not sure a human system of a human being is competent to take away a life based on artificial and created evidence,” he said. In his book, he quoted a letter to Law Commission, in which he voiced his stand against death penalty.

 It is hoped, Kalam - the Missile-Man continues to be remembered by greater importance being accorded to values he held and promoted.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2015 on page no. 11

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