The majority of the 121 crore and more Indians now living were born after their country became independent, a fact Prime Minister rendra Modi has pointed out on many an occasion. Many Indians have heard and read about the Mahatma and great patriots who made their country free, have listened to re-runs of Pandit Nehru’s momentous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech with which India announced itself to the world at the stroke of midnight in 1947. Old-timers fondly recall Ambedkar and other titans who gave the country its Constitution, as well as the first two Presidents who were so instrumental in raising the profile of their newborn country abroad. With their towering intellect, uncompromising principles and integrity, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishn were tough acts to follow for other Presidents thereafter, though many among them were distinguished in their own right. But the general impression the Indian public subsequently received was of a greedy Executive inexorably beginning to undermine the office of President, constitutiolly the highest in the land. Should the President serve as a mere rubber stamp of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, or did the Constitution have enough grey areas for the President to mount an independent stand? After quite a few low points in the country’s polity, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam became the eleventh President, and things were never the same afterwards. So strongly did he seize his countrymen’s imagition, that the ‘people’s President’ continued to retain his aura long after he left office. Dr Kalam’s death in the midst of a busy life dedicated to teaching and public service, will certainly add to his legend in the coming years.
And verily it should, for Dr Kalam answered to an ardent, indeed overwhelming desire of fellow Indians in the 21st century. It was left for a schoolgirl to first articulate this desire to him when he was President — that she wanted ‘to live in a developed India’. This simple but profound wish led the then President Kalam to begin a discourse with the country’s young, about where and how they wanted to see India in the comity of tions. The contact with tender but idealistic and ‘ignited’ minds, cut open a path to the very hearts of general Indians and see what seethed within. Indians had had enough of their country being scorned at as a perennial under-achiever, plodding along with its 3.5 per cent ‘Hindu rate of growth’, wallowing in chronic poverty and filth, endlessly beset with a host of social ills, forever uble to pull its weight in intertiol fora, and even failing to win any medals in Olympics or world championships. This chain had to break sometime, and Indians irrespective of age and social station, wanted to see it decisively broken in their lifetimes. So when Dr Kalam applied himself to chalk out a roadmap for the country’s development, it touched a collective responsive chord. Broadly, he outlined an audacious vision of transforming India into a middle developed country by the year 2020, backing itself with its tural resources, talented manpower and core competencies. The journey would begin by first focusing upon five broad areas — agriculture and food processing, infrastructure with reliable power, education and healthcare along with comprehensive social security, information and communication technology plus e-governce, and critical technologies and strategic industries, particularly nuclear, space and defence technologies.
Central to Dr Kalam’s vision was that India must position itself as a knowledge superpower. So its people must dream big, acquire all necessary knowledge and skills, work hard and persevere against all odds. And he was no impractical visiory — his life and work was testimony to that. A boatman’s son in the backwaters of Rameswaram who sold newspapers to augment the family income, Abdul Kalam equipped himself with a technical education to head the country’s rocketry and missile programmes. This was at a time when such technologies were denied to India under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other restrictive arrangements by Western powers. India literally barged into the exclusive space and nuclear clubs on its own steam. And it all came about through the never-say-die efforts of home-grown scientists and engineers like Dr Kalam who were immune to the lures of the West. So when he became the first scientist to be installed President, Dr Kalam had all the credentials and moral authority to outline his vision of excellence to be achieved through merit and total commitment. Along the way, he raised his exalted office from mundane politics to the realm of ideas that drive an entire people. Collective food security, rural support, education as a fundamental right, health and hygiene for all, countrywide digital network, fincial inclusion of the poor and ‘Make in India’ are all efforts that flow out turally from such an overmastering vision.