Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (
; 15 October 1931 – 27 July 2015) was the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. A career scientist turned reluctant politician, Kalam was born and raised inRameswaram, Tamil Nadu and studied physics and aerospace engineering. He spent the next four decades as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) andIndian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) and was intimately involved in India’s civilian space program and military missile development efforts.He thus came to be known as the Missile Man of India for his work on the development of ballistic missile andlaunch vehicle technology. He also played a pivotal organizational, technical and political role in India’s Pokhran-IInuclear tests in 1998, the first since theoriginal nuclear test by India in 1974.
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Kalam was elected President of India in 2002 with the support of both the rulingBharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Indian National Congress. After serving a term of five years, he returned to his civilian life of education, writing and public service. He received several prestigious awards, including theBharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 to aTamil Muslim family in Rameswaram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His father’s name was Jainulabudeen, a boat owner, and his mother Ashiamma, a housewife. He came from a poor background and started working at an early age to supplement his family’s income. After completing school, Kalam distributed newspapers to contribute to his father’s income. In his school years he had average grades but was described as a bright and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn and spend hours on his studies, especially mathematics. After completing his education at the Ramanathapuram Schwartz Matriculation School, Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli, then affiliated with theUniversity of Madras, from where he graduated in physics in 1954.Towards the end of the course, he was not enthusiastic about the subject and would later regret the four years he studied it. He moved to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering. While Kalam was working on a senior class project, the Dean was dissatisfied with his lack of progress and threatened to revoke his scholarship unless the project was finished within the next three days. Kalam met the deadline, impressing the Dean, who later said to him, “I was putting you under stress and asking you to meet a difficult deadline”. He narrowly missed achieving his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, as he placed ninth in qualifiers, and only eight positions were available in the IAF.
This was my first stage, in which I learnt leadership from three great teachers—Dr Vikram Sarabhai , Prof Satish Dhawan and Dr Brahm Prakash. This was the time of learning and acquisition of knowledge for me.
Kalam was invited by Raja Ramanna to witness the country’s first nuclear testSmiling Buddha as the representative ofTBRL, even though he had not participated in its development. In the 1970s, Kalam also directed two projects,Project Devil and Project Valiant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. Despite the disapproval of the Union Cabinet, Prime MinisterIndira Gandhi allotted secret funds for these aerospace projects through her discretionary powers under Kalam’s directorship. Kalam played an integral role convincing the Union Cabinet to conceal the true nature of these classified aerospace projects. His research and educational leadership brought him great laurels and prestige in the 1980s, which prompted the government to initiate an advanced missile programme under his directorship. Kalam and Dr V S Arunachalam, metallurgist and scientific adviser to the Defence Minister, worked on the suggestion by the then Defence Minister, R. Venkataraman on a proposal for simultaneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned missiles one after another. R Venkatraman was instrumental in getting the cabinet approval for allocating ₹388 crores for the mission, named Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and appointed Kalam as the chief executive. Kalam played a major part in developing many missiles under the mission including Agni, an intermediate range ballistic missile and Prithvi, the tactical surface-to-surface missile, although the projects have been criticised for mismanagement and cost and time overruns.
Kalam served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of the Defence Research and Development Organisation from July 1992 to December 1999. The Pokhran-IInuclear tests were conducted during this period in which he played an intensive political and technological role. Kalam served as the Chief Project Coordinator, along with Rajagopala Chidambaram, during the testing phase. Media coverage of Kalam during this period made him the country’s best known nuclear scientist. However, the director of the site test, K Santhanam, said that the thermonuclear bomb had been a “fizzle” and criticisied Kalam for issuing an incorrect report. Both Kalam and Chidambaram dismissed the claims.
In 1998, along with cardiologist Soma Raju, Kalam developed a low costcoronary stent, named the “Kalam-Raju Stent”. In 2012, the duo designed a rugged tablet computer for health care in rural areas, which was named the “Kalam-Raju Tablet”.
On 10 June 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which was in power at the time, expressed that they would nominate Kalam for the post of President, and both the Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Partybacked his candidacy. After the Samajwadi Party announced its support for Kalam, Narayanan chose not to seek a second term in office, leaving the field clear. Kalam said of the announcement of his candidature:
I am really overwhelmed. Everywhere both in Internet and in other media, I have been asked for a message. I was thinking what message I can give to the people of the country at this juncture.
On 18 June, Kalam filed his nomination papers in the Indian Parliament, accompanied by Vajpayee and his senior Cabinet colleagues.
The polling for the presidential election began on 15 July 2002 in Parliament and the state assemblies, with the media claiming that the election was a one-sided affair and Kalam’s victory was a foregone conclusion; the count was held on 18 July. Kalam became the 11th president of the Republic of India in an easy victory, and moved into theRashtrapati Bhavan after he was sworn in on 25 July. Kalam was the third President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, before becoming the President. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1954) and Dr Zakir Hussain (1963) were the earlier recipients of Bharat Ratna who later became the President of India. He was also the first scientist and the first bachelor to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan.
During his term as president, he was affectionately known as the People’s President, saying that signing the Office of Profit Bill was the toughest decision he had taken during his tenure. Kalam was criticised for his inaction in deciding the fate of 20 out of the 21 mercy petitions submitted to him during his tenure. Article 72 of theConstitution of India empowers the President of India to grant pardons, and suspend or commute the death sentence of convicts on death row.Kalam acted on only one mercy plea in his five-year tenure as president, rejecting the plea of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was later hanged.Perhaps the most notable plea was fromAfzal Guru, a Kashmiri terrorist who was convicted of conspiracy in theDecember 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of India in 2004. While the sentence was scheduled to be carried out on 20 October 2006, the pending action on his mercy plea resulted in him remaining on death row. He also took the controversial decision to impose President’s Rule in Bihar in 2005.
At the end of his term, on 20 June 2007, Kalam expressed his willingness to consider a second term in office provided there was certainty about his victory in the 2007 presidential election. However, two days later, he decided not to contest the Presidential election again stating that he wanted to avoid involving Rashtrapati Bhavan from any political processes. He did not have the support of the left parties, Shiv Sena and UPA constituents, to receive a renewed mandate.
Nearing the expiry of the term of the 12th President Pratibha Patil on 24 July 2012, media reports in April claimed that Kalam was likely to be nominated for his second term. After the reports,social networking sites were notable for people supporting his candidature.The BJP potentially backed his nomination, saying that the party would lend their support if the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Indian National Congress proposed him for the2012 presidential election. A month ahead of the election, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee also expressed their support for Kalam.Days afterwards, Mulayam Singh Yadav backed out, leaving Mamata Banerjee as the solitary supporter. On 18 June 2012, Kalam declined to contest the 2012 presidential poll. He said of his decision not to do so:
Many, many citizens have also expressed the same wish. It only reflects their love and affection for me and the aspiration of the people. I am really overwhelmed by this support. This being their wish, I respect it. I want to thank them for the trust they have in me.
In May 2012, Kalam launched a programme for the youth of India called the What Can I Give Movement, with a central theme of defeating corruption. He also enjoyed writingTamil poetry and playing the veenai, a South Indian string instrument. He was nominated for the MTV Youth Icon of the Year award in 2003 and 2006. In the 2011 Hindi film I Am Kalam, Kalam is portrayed as a positive influence on a poor but bright Rajasthaniboy named Chhotu, who renames himself Kalam in honour of his idol.
In 2011, Kalam was criticised by civil groups over his stand on theKoodankulam Nuclear Power Plant; he supported the establishment of the nuclear power plant and was accused of not speaking with the local people.The protesters were hostile to his visit as they perceived to him to be a pro-nuclear scientist and were unimpressed by the assurances provided by him regarding the safety features of the plant.
Kalam died of a massive cardiac arreston the evening of 27 July 2015 after he collapsed while delivering a lecture on ‘Livable Planet’ at Indian Institute of Management Shillong. Following the collapse on around 6.30 pm, Kalam, was wheeled into Bethany hospitals’ ICU in a critical condition but he was confirmed dead after more than two hours he was taken to the hospital. Kalam would have turned 84 in October, 2015.Governor of Meghalaya, V. Shanmuganathan rushed to the hospital on hearing the news of Kalam’s admission. Later Shanmughanathan said Kalam died at 7.45 pm even after medical team’s best efforts to revive Kalam. On 28 July, morning Chief Secretary PBO Warjri told reporters that he had spoken to Union Home Secretary, L.C. Goyal asking for arrangements to be made for carrying Kalam’s body to Delhifrom Guwahati.
Tamil Nadu government declared a seven-day state mourning from 27 July – 2 August, both days inclusive, as a mark of respect to former President. 
A P J Abdul Kalam delivering a speech
In his book India 2020, Kalam strongly advocated an action plan to develop India into a “knowledge superpower” and a developed nation by the year 2020. He regarded his work on India’s nuclear weapons programme as a way to assert India’s place as a future superpower
I have identified five areas where India has a core competence for integrated action: (1) agriculture and food processing; (2) education and healthcare; (3) information and communication technology; (4) infrastructure, reliable and quality electric power, surface transport and infrastructure for all parts of the country; and (5) self-reliance in critical technologies. These five areas are closely inter-related and if advanced in a coordinated way, will lead to food, economic and national security.
It was reported that there was considerable demand in South Korea for translated versions of books authored by him.
Kalam took an active interest in other developments in the field of science and technology, including a research programme for developing bio-implants. He also supported Open Sourcetechnology over proprietary solutions, predicting that the use of free software on a large scale would bring the benefits of information technology to more people.
Kalam set a target of interacting with 100,000 students during the two years after his resignation from the post of scientific adviser in 1999. He explained, “I feel comfortable in the company of young people, particularly high school students. Henceforth, I intend to share with them experiences, helping them to ignite their imagination and preparing them to work for a developed India for which the road map is already available.”
Kalam’s 79th birthday was recognised as World Student Day by the United Nations. He has also receivedhonorary doctorates from 40 universities. The Government of India has honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 for his work with ISRO and DRDO and his role as a scientific advisor to the Government.In 1997, Kalam received India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, for his contribution to the scientific research and modernisation of defence technology in India. In 2005, Switzerland declared 26 May as “Science Day” to commemorate Kalam’s visit to the country. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Von Braun Awardfrom the National Space Society “to recognize excellence in the management and leadership of a space-related project.”
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