Abdul Kalam, A.P.J.

Abdul Kalam, A.P.J.
▪ 2003

      In 2002 India made an unorthodox choice for president by electing a front-rank rocket scientist. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was nicknamed Missile Man, had just retired from the country's space and defense research programs when the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government put forward his name for the presidency in the July election. Kalam won in a landslide and was sworn in as India's 11th president on July 25.

      Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on Oct. 15, 1931, in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu state, India, to a Muslim family of modest means. He earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology and joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1958. He soon moved to the Indian Space Research Organisation, where his brilliance and leadership attracted notice. He was project director of SLV-III, India's first indigenously designed and produced satellite launch vehicle. Rejoining DRDO in 1982 he planned the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, which produced the missiles Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul, and Nag that became household names in India. From 1992 to 1997 Kalam was scientific adviser to the defense minister, and in November 1999 he was named principal scientific adviser to the government with the rank of cabinet minister. He was awarded two of the highest national honours, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and Bharat Ratna in 1997.

      Kalam's interest was not confined to defense and space research. In 1998 he put forward a major plan for the application of science to problems of everyday life. He called it Technology Vision 2020 and described it as a road map for transforming India from a less-developed society into a developed one in 20 years. The plan called for, among other measures, increasing agricultural productivity, emphasizing technology as a vehicle for economic growth, and widening access to health care and education.

      When the time came to nominate a successor to outgoing Pres. K.R. Narayanan, the NDA found that the arithmetic in the electoral college did not guarantee a safe passage for its candidate unless a section of the opposition also supported him. The government's failure to halt sectarian rioting in the western state of Gujarat—during which a large number of persons, mostly Muslims, had been killed—had prompted accusations that the NDA was anti-Muslim. The NDA hit upon Kalam's name. His stature and popular appeal were such that even the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, also proposed his candidacy. He bested Lakshmi Sehgal, a token candidate put up by the Left parties, by a vote of 4,152–459 when polling took place in Congress on July 15. In his pronouncements following his victory, Kalam reiterated his resolve to work for Technology Vision 2020. In his autobiography, Wheels of Fire (1999), he had made a strong plea against “the culture of working only for material possessions and rewards.”

H.Y. Sharada Prasad

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▪ president of India
in full  Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam 
born October 15, 1931, Rameswaram, India

      Indian scientist and politician, who played a leading role in the development of India's missile and nuclear weapons programs. He was president of India from 2002 to 2007.

      Kalam earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology and in 1958 joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). He soon moved to the Indian Space Research Organisation, where he was project director of the SLV-III, India's first indigenously designed and produced satellite launch vehicle. Rejoining DRDO in 1982, Kalam planned the program that produced a number of successful missiles, which helped earned him the nickname “Missile Man.”

      From 1992 to 1997 Kalam was scientific adviser to the defense minister, and he later served as principal scientific adviser (1999–2001) to the government with the rank of cabinet minister. His prominent role in the country's 1998 nuclear weapons tests established Kalam as a national hero, although the tests caused great concern in the international community. In 1998 Kalam put forward a countrywide plan called Technology Vision 2020, which he described as a road map for transforming India from a less-developed to a developed society in 20 years. The plan called for, among other measures, increasing agricultural productivity, emphasizing technology as a vehicle for economic growth, and widening access to health care and education.

      In 2002 India's ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) put forward Kalam to succeed outgoing President Kocheril Raman Narayanan (Narayanan, Kocheril Raman). Kalam was nominated by the pro-Hindu NDA even though he was Muslim, and his stature and popular appeal were such that even the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, also proposed his candidacy. Kalam easily won the election and was sworn in as India's 11th president, a largely ceremonial post, in July 2002. He remained committed to using science and technology to transform India into a developed country. In 2007 Kalam left office and was succeeded by Pratibha Patil, the country's first woman president.

      Kalam has written several books, including an autobiography, Wheels of Fire (1999). Among his numerous awards are two of the country's highest honours, the Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the Bharat Ratna (1997).

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Universalium. 2010.

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