APJ Abdul Kalam will be best remembered as the visionary who fired the imagination of a nation
Very few presidents have captured public imagination in India as APJ Abdul Kalam did. A rank commoner—the son of a boatman from Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu—who became an aeronautical engineer and the face of the country’s missile programme, he ended up being the People’s President. Working at the Indian Space Research Organization, he pioneered India’s ballistic and nuclear-capable missile programmes—that earned him the moniker “Missile Man”. Kalam, with his signature hairstyle, first became a familiar face for Indians in 1998, when he was beamed into living rooms via news-channels as he ushered then prime minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the test site after India’s second nuclear test, in Pokhran. His appointment to the post of president, the highest political office in the country, in 2002, was viewed as rather unconventional given he had kept himself distant from any manner of political affiliation——though nominated by the NDA government of the time, he received support across the political spectrum.
As president, he furthered the cause of Indian science and education on visits abroad. A tireless public speaker, with easy affability for the youth, Kalam endeared himself to students, talking to them the at many educational institutions he visited. Thoroughly accomplished as he was, his defining achievement is perhaps that he was the first president to outline a development vision for the country—Vision 2020, that contained elements such as PURA, or ‘providing urban amenities in rural areas’. Even after demitting office, he chose an active public life, constantly engaging with the youth and spurring them to “dream” big in the interest of India’s progress. A student who moonlighted as a news-paper delivery boy, an aeronautical engineer who became a president, a president who transcended his tenure—Kalam will perhaps be best remembered as a visionary who fired the imagination of a nation.