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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 32 New Delhi August 1, 2015

Importance of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Friday 31 July 2015, by Muchkund Dubey

The following are excerpts from an article written by the author and published in the editorial page of The Hindu on July 5, 2002 after the election of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to the post of the President. These excerpts are being reproduced, with due acknowledgement, as their validity remains undiminished to this day.

The incoming President, Dr Kalam is a great achiever. His achievements have been duly recognised by the award of Bharat Ratna. Dr Kalam will be the role model for millions of young men and women in the country fired by the ambition of achieving greater things in life. Apart from this, his humility, simplicity and honesty have impressed us. This is more than what we can expect from any politician today. His humble origins and his practice of austerity even now are bound to bring him close to the common man. Like Mr Narayanan, he can also be expected to be committed to the cause of the poor and to work for the improvement of their lot. After all, he left a high position in the government mainly in order to devote himself to this kind of work.

The political parties which are sponsoring Dr Kalam’s candidature are doing so not because of his intrinsic worth but in pursuit of their own political interests. The BJP is doing it to establish its non-existent secular credentials and to refurbish its image tarnished by the Gujarat carnage. The Congress and the other so-called secularist political parties are supporting him in the belief that this would enable them to retain, if not augment, their Muslim vote-banks. Thus, we have here the case of the right candidate being nominated for the wrong reasons.

There are strong reasons to believe that once elected Dr KaJam will not be the Pcesident of a particular political party but of the entire nation. He would not allow the fact of his being a Muslim to come in the way of his upholding the secular basis of the Constitution and safeguarding the interests of the minorities at all costs against the likely onslaught of the Sangh Parivar.

One of the objections being raised against Dr. Kalam’s candidature is that he lacks political experience and is not well versed in the functioning of the Constitution. Therefore, he would not be able to grapple with the complexity of providing guidance for the formation of multi-party coalition governments at the Centre. 1 am sure this apprehension would also prove unfounded. Dr Kalam will not be an innocent at large in Indian politics. The person who has occupied the highest positions in the government and has won the highest award in the country, and who has got huge projects sanctioned at the political level and led teams of scientists and technicians to implement them successfully can surely be relied upon to find his way out of the country’s political maze and administrative labyrinth. Unlike wily politicians, Dr Kalam would not get involved in political horsetrading. This will be good for the country. For we have had enough of political wheeler-dealers.

By far the most ill-conceived, ill-informed and self-defeating allegation levelled against Dr Kalam is that by electing him President we will send a wrong signal to the world, of a militarist India reliant on weapons of mass destruction. This, according to these detractors of Dr Kalam, would be in accordance with the BIP’s belief in militarist and aggressive nationalism. There cannot be a greater injustice to our incoming President than making this kind of snide remarks. Here one may ask: can India afford to disarm unilaterally? Can we think of an India which can dispense with military force altogether? If not, why this guilt complex about our being a military power?

If we cannot dispense with all military power then where should we draw the line? Should we have stopped short of acquiring nuclear weapons? Even had we done so, on what basis can we take objection to our country acquiring missiles? For, missiles have emerged as the most effective carriers of even conventional weapons. Missiles have been integrated into the traditional armed forces of all significant military powers including not only Pakistan but also Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia. Egypt etc. What is the justification for prescribing a self-denying ordinance only for India?

And so far as nuclear weapons are concerned, India did not undertake their production years after it acquired the capability to do so. India started assembling nuclear weapons only after Pakistan’s acquisition of such weapons became publicly known. Not to have done so would have amounted to taking unwarranted risks with our security.

The fact is that in the context of the present security environment in the region, it has become indispensable for India to acquire both nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles. This decision has been taken by the country, Parliament and Cabinets of successive governments, not only of the BJP. Dr Kalam has not taken this decision. He simply happened to be in a position where he was entrusted with the responsibility of implementing one of its most important components. All Dr Kalam did was successfully discharge his responsibilities.

The author is a former Foreign Secretary of India. He is currently the President, Council for Social Development, New Delhi.