India waits for Kalam’s vision of harmony and prosperity to come true
2015-08-15 16:22:33 -
World News

By Shwetali Sapte


Indians all over the world lost an extraordinary figure in their lives when author, scientist, and former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam passed away at the age of 83 due to a cardiac arrest on 27 July. 


The Indian government announced a seven-day state mourning in Dr Kalam’s honour, and it came as no surprise that the Indian community, in all its political, geographical, ethnic, and religious diversity, mourned his death as one.


When Dr Kalam was elected president in 2002, he seemed to transcend ideological barriers in Indian society. Born to a south Indian Muslim family in what was then British India, he was a practicing Muslim who listened to Carnatic music, which evolved from ancient Hindu tradition, and adhered to Hindu principles of vegetarianism. He habitually read the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu scripture that Gandhi reportedly referred to as his “spiritual dictionary”. 


In the four decades before his presidency, Dr Kalam was a visionary scientist who pioneered the Indian missile development programme, and was credited for his key role in India’s success as a nuclear power. In 2010, the UN declared his birthday as World Students’ Day. He spent his last years teaching at institutes across India.


In 2009, Dr Kalam visited Ireland to give a lecture at Trinity College Dublin that was attended by hundreds, both Indian and Irish. Many of them have since paid their respects in a condolence book opened by the Indian Embassy in Dublin on 30 July.


The Ireland-India Council (IIC), an organisation that promotes Indian-Irish community relations, also organised a memorial meeting on 1 August. IIC co-founder Prashant Shukla, who briefly met Dr Kalam during his visit to Ireland, said that “his contributions are much more than as a president, he was a pioneer in technology as well… He was truly a people’s man.”


Dr Kalam’s career in science and politics earned him the affectionate titles of ‘India’s Missile Man’ and ‘People’s President’, but his appeal largely derived from his humble origins as a poor boatman’s son who sold newspapers as a teenager. To millions of poor Indians, the presidential figure was no longer a class apart or unknowable; instead, he became one of them.


With his accomplishments, the Indian public was loath to confine Dr Kalam to any particular group based on religion, ethnicity, or political belief. This kind of treatment is rarely bestowed to politicians; for instance, incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely criticised for his Hindu nationalist agenda that allegedly discriminates against Muslims. In 2002, during Modi’s period in office as Chief Minister of Gujarat, religious violence broke out and resulted in the deaths of over 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. In the years since, his ascendance to prime minister in 2014 invited accusations with renewed fervour, most of which claim that he condoned the violence.


Dr Kalam’s governance, meanwhile, had a conspicuous lack of controversy. In a country run by politicians with tainted legacies, he was a novelty. His endearing authenticity, combined with his leadership, stirred India’s deep sorrow at his death.


Out of all his achievements, Dr Kalam is perhaps most acclaimed for Vision 2020, a set of goals to make India a developed nation by that year. These included a reduced rural-urban gap; harmonised agriculture, industry, and service sectors; eradication of poverty and terrorism; and corruption-free governance.


Today, India is closer to achieving these goals than when Dr Kalam established them in the 1990s, but with only five years to go till the target year, the vision will miss its mark. Corruption scandals are growing in number, terrorist violence continues, and rural-urban disparity levels are higher than ever before. Prime Minister Modi won a well-executed campaign based on promises of a bright, economically developed future; a year into his administration, India still waits for that future to materialise. 

TAGS : India Abdul Kalam Hindu Trinity College Prime Minister Modi
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