APJ Abdul Kalam, the unconventional President who learnt the art of the political - ABP Live

APJ Abdul Kalam, the unconventional President who learnt the art of the political

New Delhi: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam - ex-President, professor, defence technocrat and igniter of young minds - on Monday died as he would probably have wished, interacting with students. He was 83.

 

Kalam's death, after a massive heart attack while lecturing at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong, rekindled memories of an unconventional presidency, much of it spent in the company of school and university children.

 

He was confirmed dead at a hospital an hour after collapsing.

 

Kalam's life and times in Rashtrapati Bhavan signified a departure from the constricted lifestyles of most other Presidents, whose interactions with the public were largely confined to ceremonial appearances on red-letter days.

 

In many ways, Kalam was a product of the political dynamics resulting from the empowerment of the subalterns in the late 1980s and 1990s.

 

He never called himself political although he was ambitious enough to have a second, aborted stab at a presidential election.

 

Kalam was born poor, worked to pay for his education, studied at schools and colleges that carried little cachet, was drawn to science and technology, toiled hard and networked adroitly.

 

Most important, he leveraged his antecedents and attributes to nurture the image of a "people's person", and later a "people's President" who had little use for the frippery of ceremony and protocol.

 

Kalam was seen as an "aam aadmi" who had by dint of circumstances and destiny found himself in the country's highest constitutional office. He projected himself as a man who dreamt big and laboured hard to realise his dreams.

 

"Dreams are not those that we see in our sleep. They should be the ones that never let us sleep," he wrote in his autobiography, My Journey.

 

Kalam was born on October 15, 1931, in Rameswaram on the southern tip of Tamil Nadu. His father, Jainulabiddin Marakayar, owned a ferry that took people back and forth between Rameswaram and the now-extinct Dhanushkodi.

 

Kalam's upbringing in this part of Tamil Nadu, with its strong mythological links to the Ramayan, influenced his sensibilities.

 

In his autobiography, he recalled how Dhanushkodi was a must-stop for Hindu pilgrims and how he had first heard the stories of the Ramayan from the passengers of his father's boat.

 

"These stories and many others washed around me in different tongues and shapes," he wrote.

 

Kalam's receptivity to Hinduism was one of the attributes that endeared him to the BJP. In 2002, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government picked him as its presidential nominee.

 

The late Pramod Mahajan, Kalam's unofficial campaign manager, often told journalists that here was the son of a devout Muslim who could quote most of the verses from the Tamil classic Tirukurral, played the veena, prayed at temples and was a vegetarian. To the RSS, Kalam was its idea of a "good Muslim".

 

But Kalam had learnt his lessons in statecraft before he caught the BJP's fancy. Political lore has it that Kalam was one of Mulayam Singh Yadav's favourites when the Samajwadi Party boss was defence minister and Kalam his scientific adviser.

 

When Vajpayee and colleagues were headhunting for a President, Mulayam is said to have suggested Kalam.

 

If one were to join the dots on a messy board, Kalam potentially cleared much of the mess for Vajpayee because he was a Muslim.

 

Vajpayee had to wash away the scars left behind by the Gujarat communal violence. He had to assuage Muslim feeling of anger and vulnerability.

 

There was an added reason why Kalam was in such synch with the BJP's requirements. It was his fierce advocacy of the party's aggressive pro-nuclear strategy. Muslim opinion shapers were sceptical about him. .

 

Kalam overwhelmingly defeated Lakshmi Sehgal, fielded by the Left Front.

 

In office, he pursued what he would be remembered for: throwing open the portals of Rashtrapati Bhavan to students and professionals, steering clear of battles with the government of the day unlike some of his predecessors, and fostering his technological interests.

 

The last jelled with an emerging and enlarging population of techies who had no use for the conventional public figure talking down to them in rhetoric and clichés.

 

Kalam's tact was evident when, in an interview in 2012 with M.J. Akbar, now BJP Rajya Sabha member, he refused to say anything amiss about his visit to Gujarat after the riots.

 

"When I visited Gujarat, I did not go to investigate what happened and whether Modi was right or wrong, but to remove the pain and accelerate relief work," were his anodyne words.

 

Asked if he had stopped Sonia Gandhi from staking claim to the Prime Minister's post in 2004 because of her "foreign" origin, Kalam's answer was: "After the Supreme Court announced that Mrs Gandhi could become PM, how could I supersede it?"

 

Kalam showed he was not averse to the allurement of office when, in 2012, Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam proposed his candidacy for a second term against UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee.

 

The plan failed after the Congress worked on Mulayam and he withdrew his support for Kalam. Kalam discreetly let on his disappointment with Mulayam, his original sponsor, in the interview to Akbar.

 

He lauded Mamata's "leadership qualities" but was silent on Mulayam.

 

Kalam was asked what the first line would be if he had to write a poem about that presidential election.

 

"Courage, courage, courage," he replied, but would not say who had shown that quality through the protracted run-up: he in fighting a losing cause or his promoter, Mamata.

 

SOURCE: www.telegraphindia.com

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