Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam stands out as a beacon of inspiration to millions in this country. That he merged into the eternal literally with his boots on while on his favourite mission, namely, interacting with his enduring constituency of academics, students and teachers in Shillong would give our revered former President’s soul eternal peace.
I recall, fondly and with respect, my official interactions with him while he was the DRDO chief and Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. As a brigadier in the Weapons and Equipment Directorate, I had to call on his office, with countless files to get his views on new weaponry to be inducted in the Army. I was struck with his passion for self-reliance and indigenisation of equipment for India’s defence needs and also had the privilege to attend some of his masterly presentations on futuristic weaponry. That he could not make the sluggish and bureaucratic DRDO to deliver adequately would have greatly disappointed him no end.
However, Dr Kalam has to be given due credit for the success of the Integrated Missile Development Programme, initiated in the mid 1980s, which led to the development and induction of the lethal and modern nuclear capable Prithvi and Agni series of missiles, which conferred on India long awaited strategic capabilities. In tandem with ISRO, he was instrumental in the PSLV 3 and the Rohini satellite launch programmes. Importantly, his contribution along with Dr Chidambaram of the Atomic Energy Commission, to the resounding success of the Pokharan 2 series of nuclear tests, which led to us becoming a nuclear weapons state, will be recalled by a grateful nation for generations to come.
Though he was the quintessential man of science, yet he extended many of his scientific innovations for the nation’s defence needs to civil and humanitarian use. He welcomed the long awaited nuclear energy deal with the US in 2008 to answer India’s energy needs.
I must quote two personal anecdotes here. While he was the DRDO chief, outside his office in South Block, sat his personal security officer, a sub-inspector of the Delhi police, brandishing a rusty, outdated 9 mm sten. Coming out of Dr Kalam’s office, I suggested to the SI to have his sten replaced for, “the gentleman sitting inside was far more precious to the nation than any politician, and the enemies of India would be waiting to assassinate him”. I think the Delhi police did take my suggestion seriously and some upgrade of Dr Kalam’s personal security ensued.
In early 2004, Dr Kalam, as President of India, graciously bestowed the “Presidential Colours” to the 86 Armoured Regiment. I was the colonel of the regiment. At the dinner preceding the next morning’s mounted parade, the President expressed his desire to be in Delhi the next day to be in time to cast his vote for the Delhi Assembly elections. I requested him that a very large number of soldiers and their families, especially children, wanted to meet him. In my soldierly exuberance, I elaborated that “these elections were hardly important and the President of India was above all elections”. He had a good laugh and expressed that like all citizens, he too had his democratic rights. He did vote the next day, standing in queue for his turn to come, such was his humility. I too learnt, that day, the lesson of not proffering unsolicited advice to Presidents of the Republic.
It was a memorable honour for me that in the final years of my service in uniform, I was pinned the Ati Vishisht Sewa and the Param Vishisht Sewa Medals, respectively, by nobody else but our Supreme Commander, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Government of India may consider establishing a world class university for science and technology in his memory. In addition, it must prescribe in schools and colleges, Dr Kalam’s aptly captioned books Ignited Minds and Wings of Fire. These works symbolise the great Indian who synthesised science and spirituality for all round progress of the nation he dearly loved. Dr Kalam’s life encapsulated vividly the idea of India.
Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd) was the first chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency