Doubting the greatness of Kalam

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“I write for the same reason that a cow gives milk.”

That’s what George Bernard Shaw had to say about his creative process. I am neither GB Shaw nor do I have any bovine traits in particular- but then every once in a while, an intellectual comes along, with his out of the box revelations, and coerces me into a fit of lactation. The most recent of them was in order when Mr. N Jayaram came out with his article “Kalam was no great man: Don't let news of death confuse you.” (Link here)

Some are arguing how greatness of APJ Abdul Kalam is being overstated ...
It seems to be a fixation with some, that Dr. Kalam was a Muslim who adhered to some traditionally “Hindu practices” – of all for God’s sake, Vegetarianism and Carnatic music!! While this seems to be a rather noble principle of life in a multi cultural, multi ethnic and pluralist country like India; opinions such as the ones Mr Jayaram holds, tend to place such personal convictions so forcibly into a political set up, that it feels utterly synthetic and phony.

Case in point here is Dr. Kalam’s appointment as president in 2002. It might be very well true that the Political parties might have favoured a Muslim president. But then, what is it that was expected out of Kalam about the 2002 riots? He was a scientist, a workaholic handling his scientific chores of the day – not a politician and in particular, not a very shrewd on at that. What would you have had him do? Say NO to a position that he thought he could execute well and show, as opposed to most of his nominal predecessors that the post can actually be an instrument of influence, inspiration and change...?

By the feeble argument that Kalam accepted a post that in the larger context was essentially a tactical political move, Mr. Jayaram would find it difficult to convince just about anyone to get into public service or politics in general at all.

There is also an attempt to term him and his projects “hawkish” using formidable words such as a proponent of nuclear weaponization. Very few would disagree on the matter of Nuclear disarmament. It is perhaps the quintessential requisite to the survival of the human race or even terrestrial life on planet Earth. But such an issue can never be considered in isolation of its geopolitical implications. India sits in very slippery conditions in this regards. With military hostility from its neighbours being a very palpable reality, tending to a completely pacifist ideology is not just impractical but is also something that borders stupidity.

But that is something the so called intellectuals conveniently ignore in their arguments. There is a reason why India is a non-signatory to the NPT and CTBT. The one truly global, trans-national organization of the present day is the UN. But sadly and by conscious design, it represents the world power structure of the post WW-II era. Until that time when the so called big players allow for a more level playing field, the new boys on the block will just chose to play somewhere else. Kalam’s views and his support on military strength is not a result of him being “hawkish”, but a by product of the a larger picture that the prominent nuclear powers in the world would want to make security decisions on behalf of the smaller ones; thereby compromising their own sovereignty on foreign and to a sizable extent, internal policy matters.

The ethical stand on nuclear power plants, river linking and death penalty is also a matter of considerable constipation. It is quite convenient and a little unconstructive to point out nothing but flaws in the current and prospective projects. When people in India die by the thousands, every season specifically due to climatic conditions, river linking would generally appeal to rationality. As it obviously turns out - not to all. The surprising fact is that while environmentalists worry a great deal about the social impact viz. displacement of people from their ancestral lands and the submergence of villages, they would not bat an eye when the same people die of floods or droughts. Even considering the flora and fauna, I believe sometimes environmentalists underestimate nature in its love for its own proliferation- Thekaddy (Periyaar reserve) in Kerala being a fitting example. Also, Kalam being a constant proponent of a Thorium based nuclear energy program is quite conveniently neglected.

As for death penalty - I can agree that there is no place for it the 21st century. But that is a completely subjective view and no one can claim to take the the moral high ground because human rights are universal and apply just as much to victims as they do to the convicted. The example of Dhananjoy Chaterjee is a handy one because Mr. Jayaram has the multipurpose tool of retrospective analysis – not a luxury readily available to people who need to make decisions based on current evidence.

It is but obvious that issues such as nuclear programs, energy generation and capital punishment are extremely disputed and naturally no one is going to agree completely on even the larger points, let alone the finer ones. To pass judgements on a man’s greatness based on such gray issues is a little rich. Especially given the fact that for the most part, he would be remembered and rightly so, to be a man who inspired a whole generation to dream big and work hard. He was a man who gave the phrase “Presidential Palace” a meaning more profound than the ones that could be found in a dictionary when he opened the imposing gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to school children, college students, farmers and a multitude of other social classes. This, especially because, unlike factional politicians and political pundits, he did not believe in social classes. And this is hardly surprising-  how would social classes matter; especially to a Muslim boy who was son to a boat owner, friend to the son of a Rameshwaram temple high priest, who went on to become a technician at Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station which was housed in a donated St. Mary Magdalene Church.

In his closing remark, Mr. Jayaram opines, “...eulogising of Kalam comes across as a tad obscene.” I would want to humbly state that like each one of us, Dr. Kalam was no God. As every human, he had his share of misjudgements, vices and beliefs. What is actually “a tad obscene” is the pathological obsession with nitpicking every single mistake or opinion that is incoherent with your own and painting with a broad brush a picture far less beautiful than the person Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam actually was.

Written by Allen George

Follow him on twitter @Old_Estonial

Books by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
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1965 War,3,66A,2,Aam Aadmi,1,AAP,37,AAP Rift,4,AAPtard,2,Abhishek Manu Singhvi,1,ABP News,1,ABVP,1,Acche Din,3,Achhe Din,2,Acid Attacks,1,Activism,3,Adarsh Liberal,5,Aditi Restaurant,1,Aditya Chaturvedi,5,Advertorial,1,Afghanistan,3,Africa,1,Afzal Guru,1,Agriculture,2,AIADMK,1,AIB Roast,1,Ajmal Kasab,1,Akshay Bhatt,1,Akshay Marathe,4,Akshay Thakre,1,Al Qaeda,2,Alcohol,1,Algeria,1,Alka Gurha,1,Allen George,2,Ambani,1,Amit Shah,2,Amrit Hallan,4,Amrita Rai,1,Analysis,21,Angola,1,Animal Rights,2,Animal Welfare Board of India,1,Aniruddh Chakraborty,1,Anjali Damania,4,Anjana Bhartia,1,Ankit Lal,1,Ankur Baruah,1,Anna Hazare,2,APJ Abdul Kalam,1,App,1,Apsara Iyengar,1,Arab Spring,1,Archived,110,Argentina,1,Argument,32,Arjun Kapoor,1,Arnab Goswami,5,Arpan Mukherjee Das,2,Arpita Biswas,1,Article Review,1,Arun Jaitley,1,Arundhati Roy,1,Arvind Kejriwal,42,Arvind Passey,1,ASEAN,3,Asha Dwarkanath,1,Asha Mirjie,1,Ashutosh,1,Ashutosh Gowarrikar,1,Asia,1,Assam,2,Atal Bihari 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Indian Exponent: Doubting the greatness of Kalam
Doubting the greatness of Kalam
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