Some people might be grudging APJ Abdul Kalam for often going soft on hardliner Hindutva or that he subjected himself to be 'used' as an icon to correct BJP's anti-Muslim image post-Godhra mayhem.
But it could be travesty of truth and gross injustice to the Late former President as often he spoke out his mind and even in 2002 itself within days he took over as the President, Kalam visited riot-hit Naroda Patiya and had said in no unambiguous words:
"The grievances poured forth by the affected people (READ riot-scarred minorities) to me... should merit immediate attention of those concerned and actions taken with alacrity".
A 'people’s President' that he was, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, would be best remembered in this multi-religious and multi-lingual nation as a great unifier. He was truly a champion of inter-religion faiths and struck the right balance as a man of science with a political system that by the start of the new millennium in India was getting extremely polarized and communal.
He kept up his commitment to religious harmony even after laying down office. “When nations join together to build a cohesive society, it is necessary to ensure that benefits of development encompass all sections of the society…..Both India and European Union have witnessed and are witnessing the unsavory acts of certain misguided sections of society. We have to jointly address ourselves to the root causes of such phenomena for finding lasting solutions for promoting peace,” he had said addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, during the golden jubilee of the European Union in 2007.
The speech, many still remember, as a true reflection of Kalam’s faith in his ideological moorings would be one of the most memorable ones.
Those who have seen him work first as a respected missile scientist at India's state-run Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and one of the key hands behind successful nuclear tests of Pokhran in desert state Rajasthan in 1998, also know him as a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, the peace apostle and India’s Father of the Nation. Kalam in his public speeches and interactions with students would often quote the Mahatma (Great Soul Gandhi) and would say, “Be fearless, speak from your heart, speak for your rights”.
On another occasion and as late as April 11, 2015, Kalam said at a Navy Foundation Kolkata Charter function, “People in India will have to learn not only to respect but also celebrate differences in culture, religion and race”.
"There has to be tolerance for other people's opinions, beliefs and culture. Everybody from political leaders to administrators, the police, the defence forces and the media will have to learn to regulate themselves in accordance to rules laid down by the Constitution,” he had said.
These utterances were considered much bold and apt commentary on the state of affairs in the country when the socio-political atmosphere looked polarized following number of incidents wherein either Christian minorities faced the threat of re-conversion or some minority religious places were under attack.
In retrospect Kalam took over as the 11th President of India under the cloud of 2002 anti-Muslim mayhem of Gujarat. While a debate could linger whether Kalam, a Muslim himself who openly admired ancient Hindu teachings, would have made it to the highest office in the country had there been no 2002 riots directed generally against Muslims, it is worth recall that as President, Kalam’s first tour outside national capital New Delhi – was Naendra Modi-ruled Gujarat.
He visited Bhuj where a major earthquake had taken place in 2001 and also worst riot-hit Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad’s suburbs where he went around riot-scarred minority households and Noorani Masjid locality.
During a brisk 30-minute walk around the locality in the company of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, victims of the violence complained to the President that there had been 'gross negligence' of the area during and after the violence.
Moved by the plight of the victims, the President told District Collector K Srinivasan that everything possible should be done to make the battered victims feel safe and secure. Reflecting his special concern for children, an anguished Kalam told Srinivasan to ensure that children in the affected areas are immediately put in schools.
|Vajpayee making the famous 'with which face I will go abroad'|
Kalam also had said, "Having seen all this and appreciating them against the background of the rich traditions of Gujarat, I am convinced and my faith is reinforced that the nation urgently needs an intensified movement to eliminate totally communal and other forms of strife and bring about unity of minds and total integration of our vision and goals."
One of the most distinguished scientists of India with the unique honour of receiving honorary doctorates from 30 universities and institutions, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 1997.
Even his critics, though he had a few, would admit, he had ideas on how to solve India's problems - on bridging the rural-urban divide through his pet concept "Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas - for empowering villages, and also to use solar power in a big way to tide over energy needs.
Author of widely read books like 'Wings of Fire' and 'Ignited Minds', Kalam was also a champion of the cause of digital India and always urged governments and citizens to attain self-sufficiency in "critical technology", agriculture, health and education.
Better known to commoners in the country for his right synthesis between modern science and ancient oriental teachings, his admirer would certainly love to remember him as a Karma-yogi (ancient Indian word for a workaholic) and someone who carried on with him the Indian faith of Rishi-parampara (the tradition of renunciation and service of nation).
Though his smiles and simplicity touched Indians, Dr Kalam also used his charm in a few major diplomatic events.
First Indian President to visit military ruled Myanmar in 2006, he floored Myanmar’s head of military junta Senior General Than Swe. Kalam, who had done his homework pretty well about Myanmar, had asked the General, “How is your daughter?”.
The reference was to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was still behind bars and Kalam had read that once General Than Swe had called Suu Kyi as his ‘daughter’.
Emerging from his child like exterior persona, Kalam had told Myanmar government, about India’s keenness for restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
In the ultimate, why Dr APJ Abdul Kalam would remain so endeared to his countrymen? Why people are lost in a national craze over social networking sites talking about a former President in a country where Presidentship is not only a constitutional post but largely also seen as a decorative one? It must be some decades now that since second president of India, Dr S Radhakrishnan, Kalam's popularity has reached this height.
Well, one reason for this is chiefly because APJ Abdul Kalam gave India a pride in his own right – a successful scientist, an honest and a low profile and humble man. He could spot a known face among hundreds and would ask a woman journalist in Mumbai, my good friend Dr Lalitha Vaidyanathan, a well known Science Repoter with PTI then, :"why your bindi is so big”.
Second and perhaps more important was his identification with the national ethos that no Indian could overlook. At a time when the ruling political class do not hesitate to scream that the majority Hindus in the country are often forced to "assume the offensive as a means of self-defence", it’s Kalam’s unique charm that they too found a Muslim scientist as an acceptable face and a true patriot. (ends)
|The power of Bhagwad Gita always enchanted Kalam|