Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, widely acclaimed as the “people’s President”, passed away after collapsing during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong.
Mr. Kalam (83), who was President between 2002 and 2007, took the lead in the conduct of India’s nuclear tests in May 1998 and was later fielded as the National Democratic Alliance candidate by then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.
Patricia Mukhim, editor of the Shillong Times, wrote in a Facebook post that Mr. Kalam was reportedly brought dead to Bethany hospital in the Meghalaya capital. Every year, the former President came to Shillong to deliver lectures. This time his topic was “Making the World More Livable”, she wrote.
A PTI report from Shillong quoted Chief Secretary P.B.O. Warjiri as saying that he had spoken to Union Home Secretary L.C. Goyal asking for necessary arrangements to be made for carrying Mr. Kalam’s body from Guwahati to Delhi on Wednesday morning.
Mr. Kalam, the country’s 11th President, was one of India’s most eminent scientists, and had the unique honour of receiving honorary doctorates from 30 universities and institutions.
“He has been awarded the coveted civilian awards - Padma Bhushan (1981) and Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna (1997). He is a recipient of several other awards and Fellow of many professional institutions,” an official bio said.
Apart from leading the Indian Space Research Organisation’s satellite launch programme, Mr. Kalam headed the country’s guided missile programme for many years.
As scientific advisor to the Defence Minister from July 1992 to December 1999, the former President led the “weaponisation of strategic missile systems and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in collaboration with Department of Atomic Energy”.
Popular with children and young people, Mr. Kalam engaged the youth by reaching out to them through lectures and public interactions. He also led a frugal life, which was reflected during his stay in the stately Rashtrapati Bhavan.
One of his pet themes was PURA – or the Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas – a theme he referred to often in his travels abroad.
Mr. Kalam also regaled visitors from abroad with his stories and often took them into his study in Rashtrapati Bhavan for detailed, informal chats.
A stellar career
* He was the 11th President of India (2002-2007).
* He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1997, the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and the Padma Bhushan in 1981.
* Joined the ISRO in 1969 and was the project director for India’s first indigenous satellite launch vehicle programme.
* Was a pioneer of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, India’s space workhorse.
* Brain behind India’s missile programme, including Agni and Prithvi.
* He was the chief project coordinator of the Pokhran II nuclear tests.
* He was Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the DRDO between 1992 and 1999