DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
In the spring of 2010, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was on a visit to Assam. When I approached him for some time for an interview for my television talk show, he readily agreed, but wanted to know the subjects I would touch upon. APJ being APJ, I replied saying I would like to talk to him, time permitting, on anything and everything—his vision for India, his take on states in the periphery, like those in the North-east, on terrorism, on his successes and failures as president...
On the appointed day, 5 February 2010, I and my crew reached his suite at the Raj Bhawan in Guwahati where he was staying. Once we were ready, he came and warmly greeted each and every member of my crew, including the light men. Dr Kalam hated being factually incorrect, and, therefore, had his laptop ready before him, as we sat down to talk. ‘Ask me anything,” he said, and we began talking.
Abridged excerpts from the interview:
Q: When you visit a frontier region like the Northeast, Dr. Kalam, what thoughts cross your mind? I am asking you this question because many feel that the people here belong to the periphery about which the core does not bother much.
Ans: ...Unless a state is developed, the tion cannot be developed. There is nothing like periphery. No tion, no state can be in the periphery. All of our states have to be the main players. All the core competencies of the states have to be combined (for the tion’s progress).
Q: Do you feel, even remotely, that the idea of India is faced with challenges because so many people are demanding separate states, people are demanding more autonomy?
Ans: Societal differences and economic inequality normally emates this type of feeling. State and central government must ensure that economic development reach the people, and the societal unity is not disturbed at all. That means there should not be inequality in the development of any region.
Q: Are you happy today with the use of science and technology in combating terror?
Ans: Well, science and technology (is) only one component for elimition of terrorism. I have proposed, what is called, a tiol campaign for eradication of terrorism. It has got five components. (1) every citizen should have a common citizen identity card, that mean a smart card. This is very essential so that any other person (non tiols) cannot be moving around. (2) It is important to have one single intelligence agency at the tiol level. And this mission was taken up in 2008 when the tiol Investigation Agency Act had come. (3) Third is to remove the poverty and inequality from the tion. That is what the Vision 2020 is all about. (4) A speedy trial and justice should be in position, that means separate court system, a fast-track court system. (5) And, the general people have to participate in the mission and ensure that they keep their surroundings safe, secure, remains vigilant.
Q: Dr. Kalam, you still think the youth in this country are restless? Your prescription to calm the youths of India and to channelize their energy in the right direction.
Ans: You see, India is a unique country...it is a democratic setup…nearly fifty per cent of our people are young. The ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful resource on earth, above the earth, under the earth. Now, their capacity can be fully utilized…only by giving a tiol vision.
Q: Now, honestly, Dr. Kalam, do you think the parliamentary democracy in India today is on the right track? What are your thoughts overall on the state of politics in this country?
Ans: See it’s a fantastic question because I addressed in Parliament also. You know, there is no other way for a democracy of a billion people to go for (other than a) parliamentary government, but what is essential is to know that politics has got two components – political politics and development politics. Political politics, normally, people elected as legislative members or parliament members, they’ve to work, and development politics—party A will say in ten years I will make a economically developed tion India, another party will say, no, I will do it in seven-eight years time but the great tradition also we generate… Now people elect party A or party B. And in development politics, the political people, they have to spend cent per cent of the time (in service of the people).
Q: You say the sight of the Brahmaputra river mesmerises you. Do you think India or for that matter Assam has been able to do justice with the Brahmaputra?
Ans: See Brahmaputra is a beautiful river full of water…But what is happening is…throughout our tion this problem is there, that is maintaining the river, its cal system, de-silting, deepening, continuously making the full…when the flood comes you have to contain the water. That means we have to distribute the water through cals, various reservoirs. Such type of system should come in a big way and we have to review the system. I visualize Brahmaputra as a smart waterway where all the banks are reinforced, and flood waters would not wash them away, there will be communication links, then big, heavy ships will be moving, heavy ships. It will be a smart waterway, means business waterway.
Q: What, in your view, has been India’s biggest failure in recent times or in the past decade or so?
Ans: Well, I don’t know whether it’s a failure, you see we have 600,000 villages in our country and seventy per cent of the people live there. There shouldn’t be any urban-rural divide. You know, the urban-rural divide shouldn’t be there.
What is needed (is) sustained development.
Q: Lastly, Dr. Kalam, what thoughts come to your mind when you go to sleep every night about this country and its people?
Ans: I normally visualize. Anything I want to do after some time, now itself I visualize. I visualize in another ten years time, that is by the year 2020, India (will) transform into a economically developed tion. I also see the billion people smiling.
Q: On that highly positive note, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, thank you very much.
Ans: Thank you...