A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

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Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (born 15 October 1931) is an Indian scientist who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007.

Kalam was born and raised in Rameswaram, 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) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and was intimately involved in the 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 and launch vehicle technology. He also played a pivotal organizational, technical and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974.

In 2002, Kalam was elected the President of India in 2002 with the support of the both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the the opposition Indian National Congress. After serving a term of 5 years, he returned to civilian life of education, writing, and public service. He has received several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor.

Early life and education


Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 in a Tamil Muslim family to Jainulabudeen, a boat owner and Ashiamma, a housewife, at Rameswaram, Ramanathapuram District, located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. 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 financially 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. He was just a simple man with a great fierceful heart in his childhood  After completing his school education at the Ramanathapuram Schwartz Matriculation School, Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli, then affiliated with the University 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 then moved to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering. While Kalam was working on a senior class project, the Dean was dissatisfied with the lack of progress and threatened revoking his scholarship unless the project was finished within the next three days. He worked tirelessly on his project and met the deadline, impressing the Dean who later said, “I [Dean] was putting you [Kalam] 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.”-A P J Abdul Kalam

Career as a scientist


After graduating from Madras Institute of Technology (MIT – Chennai) in 1960, Kalam joined Aeronautical Development Establishment of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as a scientist. Kalam started his career by designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army, but remained unconvinced with the choice of his job at DRDO. Kalam was also part of the INCOSPAR committee working under Vikram Sarabhai, the renowned space scientist. In 1969, Kalam was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where he was the project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in near earth’s orbit in July 1980. Joining ISRO was one of Kalam’s biggest achievements in life and he is said to have found himself when he started to work on the Satellite Launching Vehicle (SLV) project. Kalam first started work on an expandable rocket project independently at DRDO in 1965. In 1969, Kalam received the government’s approval and expanded the programme to include more engineers.

Kalam addresses engineering students at IIT Guwahati

In 1963–64, he visited NASA‘s Langley Research Center in Hampton Virginia, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and Wallops Flight Facility situated at Eastern Shore of Virginia. During the period between the 1970s and 1990s, Kalam made an effort to develop the Polar Satellite Launching Vehicle (PSLV) and SLV-III projects, both of which proved to be success.

Kalam was invited by Raja Ramanna to witness the country’s first nuclear test Smiling Buddha as the representative of TBRL, even though he had not participated in the development, test site preparation and weapon designing. In the 1970s, a landmark was achieved by ISRO when the locally built Rohini-1 was launched into space, using the SLV rocket. In the 1970s, Kalam also directed two projects, namely, Project Devil and Project Valiant , which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. Despite the disapproval of Union Cabinet, Prime Minister Indira 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 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 was the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of Defence Research and Development Organisation from July 1992 to December 1999. The Pokhran-II nuclear 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 R. 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 R. Chidambaram dismissed the claims.

In 1998, along with cardiologist Soma Raju, Kalam developed a low cost coronary 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”.

Presidency


Kalam served as the 11th President of India, succeeding K R Narayanan. He won the 2002 presidential election with an electoral vote of 922,884, surpassing 107,366 votes won by Lakshmi Sahgal. He served from 25 July 2002 to 25 July 2007.

On 10 June 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which was in power at the time, expressed to the leader of opposition, Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi that they would propose Kalam for the post of President. The Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party backed his candidacy. After the Samajwadi Party announced its support for him, Narayanan chose not to seek a second term in office, leaving the field clear for Kalam.

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.

—Kalam responding to the announcement of his candidature by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

On 18 June, Kalam filed his nomination papers in the Parliament of India, accompanied by Vajpayee and his senior Cabinet colleagues.

Kalam along with Vladimir Putin and Manmohan Singh during his presidency

The polling for the presidential election began on 15 July 2002 in the Parliament and the state assemblies with media claiming that the election was a one-sided affair and Kalam’s victory was a foregone conclusion. The counting was held on 18 July. Kalam won the presidential election in a highly one-sided contest. He became the 11th president of the Republic of India. He moved into the Rashtrapati 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. In his words, signing the Office of Profit Bill was the toughest decision he had taken during his tenure.

Kalam is criticised for inaction as a President in deciding the fate of 20 out of the 21 mercy petitions. Article 72 of the Constitution of India empowers the President of India to grant pardon, suspend and remit death sentences and commute the death sentence of convicts on death row. Kalam acted on only one mercy plea in his 5-year tenure as a President, rejecting the plea of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was hanged thereafter. The most important of the 20 pleas is thought to be that of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri terrorist who was convicted of conspiracy in the December 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 the mercy plea resulted in him continuing in the death row.

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 term expiry of the 12th President Pratibha Patil, whose tenure ended 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 abuzz with activities extending their support for his candidature. BJP potentially backed his nomination, saying that the party will lend their support if Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Indian National Congress proposes his name for the 2012 presidential election. Just a month ahead of the election, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee also expressed their support to Kalam and revealed that they both would suggest his name. Days after expressing support, Mulayam Singh Yadav backed out, leaving Mamata Banerjee as a solitary supporter. On 18 June 2012, Kalam refused to contest 2012 presidential poll after much speculations.

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.”

—Kalam’s message to public upon denying to contest Presidential poll 2012.

Post-presidency


He is currently a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Shillong, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management Indore, honorary fellow of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore) and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India.

In May 2012, Kalam launched his mission for the youth of the nation called the What Can I Give Movement with a central theme to defeat corruption. He also has interests in writing Tamil poetry and in playing veenai, a South Indian string instrument.

He was nominated for the MTV Youth Icon of the Year award in 2003 and in 2006. In the 2011 Hindi film I Am Kalam, Kalam is portrayed as an extremely positive influence to a poor but bright Rajasthani boy named Chhotu, who renames himself Kalam in honour of his idol.

Kalam was frisked by airport security at the JFK Airport in New York in September 2011, which led to protests by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and an expression of regret by US Government. Kalam had previously frisked by the ground staff of the Continental Airlines at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi in July 2009 and was treated like an ordinary passenger, despite being on the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security’s list of people exempted from security screening in India.

In 2011, Kalam was criticised by civil groups over his stand on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, where he supported setting up of the nuclear power plant and never spoke 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 assurance provided by him on the safety features of the plant.

Writings


 
A P J Abdul Kalam delivering a speech

In his book India 2020, Kalam strongly advocates an action plan to develop India into a knowledge superpower and a developed nation by the year 2020. He regards his work on India’s nuclear weapons programme as a way to assert India’s place as a future superpower. In this regards he says

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 a considerable demand in South Korea for translated versions of books authored by him.

Kalam continues to take an active interest in other developments in the field of science and technology. He has proposed a research programme for developing bio-implants. He is a supporter of Open Source over proprietary solutions and believes that the use of free software on a large scale will 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. In his own words, “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.” He continued to interact with students during his term as a President and also during his post-presidency period as a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management Indore, Chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysuru), and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India. Kalam is strong supporter of Space based solar power. In 2012 China proposed joint development between India and China towards developing a solar power satellite, during a visit by Kalam.

Awards and honours


A P J Abdul Kalam’s 79th birthday was recognised as World Student’s Day by United Nations. He has also received honorary 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 immense and valuable 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 in the country. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Von Braun Award from the National Space Society “to recognize excellence in management of and leadership for a space-related project.”

Year of award or honour Name of award or honour Awarding organisation
2014 Doctor of Science Edinburgh University,UK
2012 Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) Simon Fraser University
2011 IEEE Honorary Membership IEEE
2010 Doctor of Engineering University of Waterloo
2009 Honorary Doctorate Oakland University
2009 Hoover Medal ASME Foundation, USA
2009 International von Kármán Wings Award California Institute of Technology, USA
2008 Doctor of Engineering (Honoris Causa) Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2007 King Charles II Medal Royal Society, UK
2007 Honorary Doctorate of Science University of Wolverhampton, UK
2000 Ramanujan Award Alwars Research Centre, Chennai
1998 Veer Savarkar Award Government of India
1997 Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration Indian National Congress
1997 Bharat Ratna Government of India
1994 Distinguished Fellow Institute of Directors (India)
1990 Padma Vibhushan Government of India
1981 Padma Bhushan Government of India

Books and documentaries


Kalam’s writings
  • Developments in Fluid Mechanics and Space Technology by A P J Abdul Kalam and Roddam Narasimha; Indian Academy of Sciences, 1988
  • India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium by A P J Abdul Kalam, Y S Rajan; New York, 1998.
  • Wings of Fire: An Autobiography by A P J Abdul Kalam, Arun Tiwari; Universities Press, 1999.
  • Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India by A P J Abdul Kalam; Viking, 2002.
  • The Luminous Sparks by A P J Abdul Kalam, by; Punya Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2004.
  • Mission India by A P J Abdul Kalam, Paintings by Manav Gupta; Penguin Books, 2005
  • Inspiring Thoughts by A P J Abdul Kalam; Rajpal & Sons, 2007
  • Indomitable Spirit by A P J Abdul Kalam; Rajpal and Sons Publishing
  • Envisioning an Empowered Nation by A P J Abdul Kalam with A Sivathanu Pillai; Tata McGraw-Hill, New Delhi
  • You Are Born To Blossom: Take My Journey Beyond by A P J Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari; Ocean Books, 2011.
  • Turning Points: A journey through challenges by A P J Abdul Kalam; Harper Collins India, 2012.
  • Target 3 Billion” by A P J Abdul Kalam and Srijan Pal Singh; December 2011 | Publisher Penguin Books.
  • My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions by A P J Abdul Kalam; August 2013 by the Rupa Publication.
  • A Manifesto for Change: A Sequel to India 2020 by A P J Abdul Kalam and V Ponraj; July 2014 by Harper Collins.

Biographies

  • Eternal Quest: Life and Times of Dr Kalam by S Chandra; Pentagon Publishers, 2002.
  • President A P J Abdul Kalam by R K Pruthi; Anmol Publications, 2002.
  • A P J Abdul Kalam: The Visionary of India by K Bhushan, G Katyal; A P H Pub Corp, 2002.
  • A Little Dream (documentary film) by P. Dhanapal; Minveli Media Works Private Limited, 2008.
  • The Kalam Effect: My Years with the President by P M Nair; Harper Collins, 2008.
  • My Days With Mahatma Abdul Kalam by Fr A K George; Novel Corporation, 2009.

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