Local Goa News

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It's APJ Abdul Kalam's first death anniversary, but his ideas must live on

Indian politicians excel in singing paeans to the dead. Their histrionics and hysterics can even wake up the dead. And they did a terrific job of it even in the case of APJ Abdul Kalam on 27 July last year.
“Bharat lost its ratna,” lamented Narendra Modi.

“India mourns his death but will long celebrate his life,” grieved Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, where Kalam had spent a good part of his life as a scientist.
But since that day, little has been heard about Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. More importantly, not a syllable has been uttered about what the “missile man” had said India must do to become a better place to live in and to turn into a Knowledge Superpower.
Forget the great memorial that Modi promised at the site where Kalam, the President of India between 2002 and 2007, was buried in Rameswaram, his birthplace in Tamil Nadu. Cows and dogs had begun to defecate on the burial site.
It was only after Kalam’s legion of fans kicked off a #Justice4GuruKalam campaign and an online petition logged more than 1.1 lakh supporters, that the government hastily announced last week that the foundation would be laid for a memorial on Kalam’s first death anniversary.
But forget about all that.
And forget that the former president, a Muslim, did namaaz every day, read the Bhagavad Gita, played Saraswati-veena and generally turned science into his religion.
And also forget for a moment that it was Kalam who made India’s missile and space programmes and Pokhran-2 nuclear test possible.
But you can’t forget the man’s ideas.
And not all of his ideas had anything to do with missiles or satellites. Some of them had — and still have — the potential to transform India from an also-ran into a winner. Those in power who sang dirges when he joined the stars seemed to have buried all those great concepts with him.
Some of Kalam’s brainwaves made a huge difference to some people’s lives. The coronary stent that he helped Hyderabad’s heart surgeon Soma Raju develop in 1991 is one such instance. Kalam’s vast knowledge of materials used in defence establishments went into it, and the result was the “Kalam-Raju stent”, priced at some Rs 10,000, while those available in the market set patients back by more than Rs one lakh.
Then there was the low-cost, light-weight callipers he helped a Hyderabad hospital develop in 1995 with the same composite material that is used in the making of Agni missile. It’s another matter that the stent and the callipers have gone out of the market, partly because they are outdated but largely because greedy, commission-crazy doctors plump for the more expensive alternatives. The stent and callipers helped people as long as they did because of private initiative.
It’s the government initiative that Kalam’s numerous other concepts need. But even before his death, most of the country’s politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats thumbed their noses at what he said.
I can never forget the day in 2004, two years after he became the president, when I was fascinated by his speech on the occasion of JRD Tata’s 100th death anniversary in Bengaluru, except that it wasn’t a speech. It was a presentation on how India could desalinate sea water and do away with drinking water shortages. No, it wasn’t a scientist’s pipe dream. Explaining the scientific process of desalination and the economics of it, he said the UAE was doing it and India could do it better at a much lower cost.
I was aghast to hear the sniggers from the top honchos of the industry who sat either side of me. They were mocking at Kalam’s teacher-like habit of repeatedly punctuating his speech with: “Do you understand? Do you understand?” That reminded me of a well-known Delhi editor, whose only reaction to Kalam’s election as president two years earlier was an amused chuckle over his “weird hair”.
Even later, the response of governments in Delhi and the states to Kalam’s suggestions ranged from the lukewarm to contemptuous.
Remember the torrential rains in Mumbai and the overflowing of the Mithi in 2005? Kalam went to Mumbai not to trot out sympathies but to make several useful suggestions on developing a storm water drainage system. “Learn lessons from Chicago, where water is handled in huge quantities,” he told local officials. Nobody knows what became of his suggestions.
Then there was his concept called Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA) which Kalam first came up with in 2003. He proposed that urban infrastructure and services should be provided in rural areas to extend economic opportunities from cities to villages. After executing it in a piecemeal fashion, successive governments only found flaws with it, but Kalam had never said his ideas were commandments set in stone. A concept like PURA needs to be improved and improvised.
The faith Kalam had in PURA was immense. When Pervez Musharraf called on him in April 2005 in Delhi, he was apparently unable to raise the Kashmir issue with the Indian president as he had planned to do. Kalam gave the general no time for it. He kept the visitor busy with a Power Point presentation he made on PURA, saying it could work wonders for Pakistan as well.
But it was the ideas with which Kalam was brimming — besides his simplicity and integrity — that earned the man a huge fan club across India. Without doubt, he is a darling of children. A popularity poll among children would put Kalam miles ahead of Chacha Nehru.
A Tamil Nadu school official once revealed that the students reserved their loudest cheer for Kalam at a programme where MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir too were among the guests.
It should be pointed out, however, that a couple of chief ministers who play competitive politics to achieve election victories through development gains have indeed paid heed to Kalam.
J Jayalalithaa has taken the desalination of sea water seriously in Tamil Nadu. And whether Kalam was his sole inspiration or not, Chandrababu Naidu, by joining the Godavari and Krishna rivers in Andhra Pradesh, has implemented the Missile Man’s other pet idea of linking rivers.
It was in 1998 that Kalam’s acclaimed book India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium was published. He pointed out in the book how India could be a Knowledge Superpower by 2020 — 22 years later. We are only four years away from his deadline, but it’s never too late.
Even if Kalam is dead, his ideas to transform India shouldn’t be.

Firstpost India News

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