Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, missile scientist and President extraordinary of India (2002-07) was a rare combination of doer and talker, a karma yogi, who drew his last breath, aged 83, while addressing a rapt, youthful audience in Shillong on human possibility through the enriching experience of science and scientific endeavour, a tireless karma yogi to the last. Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to his critical contribution to India’s development and modernization, while President Prananb Mukherjee drew attention to his humility amid the acclaim that came his way.
APJ Abdul Kalam was born into a humble Muslim family in the small Tamil Nadu town of Rameswaran, where he was laid to rest with full state honours in the presence of the Prime Minister and dignitaries from across the country, including Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, a show of unity rare in contemporary India.
Ascent from humble background
The son of a boat owner, the boy Kalam went to the local St Joseph School to be taught by exemplary teachers of whom he spoke reverentially when he had become a national icon. Next, came the elite Madras Indian Institute of Technology, where Kalam’s métier was rocket science. He worked for a spell at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) before moving onto missile development. There was little progress in the field in the 1970s despite generous government funding. The eminent physicist, Raja Ramana, was asked by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to tour the relevant laboratories and report on their failings. He discovered leaders with outsize egos, all working at cross purposes, and suggested that the entire project be scrapped and a fresh start made with a new leader at the helm of a restructured organization. Dr Ramana’s keen eye spotted then largely unknown Abdul Kalam, whom he sized up as the right man for the job. Dr Kalam was told to make a presentation to India’s top military brass on how he planned to go about delivering the missiles. The doubters in the audience, bored and cynical after years of boasting by speakers given to making unfulfilled promises, were electrified by Dr Kalam’s speech. It was eloquent, cogent and explored realistically what at that stage was doable. The unanimous verdict was that they had at last found their man. He, for his part, firmly believed that strength respected strength, that without it India would never be taken with the seriousness she deserved. The next step was to design three prototype missiles and present the drawings and explain their characteristics to then Defence Minister (later President) R. Venkataraman. This was duly done. An impressed Venkataraman told Kalam that since his team had designed three prototypes, why could they not produce three more as per the requirements of the armed forces.
Kalam takes charge
When the six prototypes were ready, the Defence Minister took Dr Kalam straight to Prime Minister Gandhi for her approval, which was promptly given, signalling the beginning, in 1983, of a glittering career and India’s odyssey with the integrated missile development programme, which yielded in the fullness of time the short-range (Prithvi), medium-range (Agni, I,II, II, IV) and long-range (Agni V) missiles for the three services. It was an amazing story. The driven Dr Kalam assembled his teams and led them into realms few had dreamed possible. His unique self-belief rubbed off on colleagues and subordinates. He gave the nation the self-confidence it had hitherto lacked.
Team leader, institution builder
Dr Kalam had an uncanny knack of getting the best out of each and every member of the teams he led because he knew their individual strengths, understanding how best to blend them in the collective effort. He had not a shred of envy or jealously of the talented people around him, he was never found wanting in generosity in acknowledging the contributions of others in the field, like space scientist, Professor Satish Dhawan, who had helped him get started, and to Mrs Gandhi, who encouraged him after the initial failure of India’s first satellite launch and the depression he felt at the time. Modest to a fault, Dr Kalam was always reticent about his own contribution to the successes that followed. He created the institutional platform for the stellar achievements of those to whom he handed over the torch when he relinquished office.
Dr Kalam had the rare ability to circumvent technological obstacles through innovation and deft political footwork. US sanctions regime against India was duly surmounted; and he became the architect of the enduring defence partnership with Russia. “We remember him for his charm and simplicity,” said the Russian Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, whose embassy in New Delhi flew the Russian flag at half-mast. “He was the man who pioneered India-Russia missile and space cooperation and as Scientific Advisor to government of the time, the (the joint venture supersonic cruise missile) BrahMos was his gift to both our countries,” said Ambassador Kadakin. Other foreign tributes included the US State Department which described Dr Kalam as “an inspirational leader; ” and Sri Lanka, a country with which Dr Kalam had a particularly warm relationship. Messages were also received from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives.
Prime Minister Atal Bihar’s decision to put Dr Kalam’s name forward as President of India was truly inspirational. He cast a light across India, always accessible, especially to the young, always encouraging, always talking of the unfolding vistas that were within the grasp of the Indian people. He was wedded to India’s well-being, to the greatness that could be hers with dedication and vision. As President he displayed a common touch that connected with all sections of society. Born a Muslim and a bachelor, Dr embraced the essential truths of all faiths. A glory has passed. Whence comes another?
ISRO mission to Venus
Space scientist Narendra Bhandari of the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory, addressing Mumbai school pupils, told them that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) planned to send a satellite to Venus and was considering a second mission to Mars. “We are also thinking of going to asteroids and comets,” he said (Times of India July 22). The shade of Dr Abdul Kalam will be pleased, even hitching a galactic lift, if possible.
Punjab terror attack
It was a wake-up call for Punjab and India, as three jihadis commandeered a police station in Gurdaspur district, near the Pakistan border, killed seven people, including a senior police officer, before being shot dead themselves in the ensuing 12-hour gun battle with security forces. The Global Position System found on their bodies would appear to suggest their journey originated in Pakistan (Hindu, Times of India July 28) See page 3 for analysis.
Border force gets language skills
Members of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Force (ITBF), which operates along the line of control with China are being given language training in Mandarin and Tibetan. A Chinese language cell has been set up at ITBT headquarters in Mussoorie for that purpose. Over the last two years 58 personnel have learned Mandarin, while 36 others have acquitted speaking writing skills in the Tibetan language. This enables the ITBF to communicate with border guards on the other side when territorial violations occur (Hindu July 23)
Prime suspect in Godhra atrocity held
A full 13 years after 59 pilgrims on a stationary train at Godhra in Gujarat were burnt alive in their coach by a rampaging mob, the prime suspect, Hussain Suleman Mohammed, has been finally run to ground in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, where was given refuge by relatives and friends. The atrocity led to the notorious communal riots in the State in March 2002. His trial should bring closure to one of the most tragic events in India’s recent history (Times of India July25)
Biocon performs well in first quarter
Bangalore-based Biotech major, Biocon, returned 23 per cent profit in the first quarter of the financial year (April-June 2015). The strong performance across all service lines plus increased profitability from its Research & Development and branded formulations business were responsible for impressive figures. Chairperson and Managing Director Kiran Mazundar Shaw said: “This, combined with product sales and monetization of R&D assets through licensing, helped us to grow.” (Business Line July 25)
Foxconn in Andhra Pradesh
Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology, the largest global contract telephone/ gadgets and hardware manufacturers arrived in Sri City in Andhra Pradesh to locate a site for the company’s manufacturing facility. This is part of the tech giant’s plan to set up about 10-12 manufacturing facilities across India. The company’s initial focus will be on Gujarat and Maharashtra, but it has already setting its sights elsewhere. Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu held talks with Foxcomm Technology Director Jerry Gou. (Business Line July 11)
Maruti Suzuki firing on all cylinders
Maruti Suzuki has returned an astonishing profit growth of 56 per cent in the first quarter of the financial year (April-June 2015) over the same quarter of last year. “During the quarter, higher volumes, cost reduction efforts, lower sales promotion expenses and favourable foreign exchange rates helped improve performance,” said a company statement.