On the Birth anniversary of former President APJ Abdul Kalam (October 15), his Press Secretary S M Khan recalls his days with great statesman. / /
It is an ememotional moment for me to remember former President APJ Abdul Kalam on his birth anniversary, with whom I spent most memorable days of my life.
It is still very difficult for me to believe that the great man is no more with us. However his memory not only invigorates me but whole nation is rejuvenated through his commitment and dedication towards India.
I remember how he would be on official tours to distant remote places on his birthday to be with students and youth of the country and work towards his vision to see our country developed .
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a multifaceted personality, a statesman and a visionary, and above all a good human being. He was a brilliant scientist and modern thinker. When I joined him as Press Secretary after 10 days of his becoming President, at his very first meeting he gave me his vision of a developed India. He spoke of how he wanted to make Rashtrapati Bhavan a people’s place where the voice of the millions of downtrodden people of India would be heard and action taken. Indeed, during his time Rashtrapati Bhavan became the President’s place and he became the people’s President. He wanted that institution of the President to be totally identified with ordinary people.
His last words to me on July 22,2015, five days before his demise were: “whatever you do, do differently. Wherever you work, leave a mark and be remembered”.
He was an ardent secularist, and also a religious man. For him, religion and morality were the same.
President Kalam took his Presidency seriously from Day 1. He was as comfortable with constitutional and legal issues as he was with school children. He was committed to nation-building and created a vision document to make India a developed nation by 2020. He made a PowerPoint presentation to senior Ministers and bureaucrats on this.
He used to make PowerPoint presentations at conferences and seminars both in India and abroad. On these he used to work himself and he was particular about every word and sentence.
He did such Powerpoint presentations during his visits abroad and while meeting dignitaries such as the U.S. President George Bush and Pakistan President Pervez Musharaf. When he presented his vision of India’s nuclear energy requirements to Mr. Bush and his vision of a joint fight India and Pakistan could wage against poverty, both were impressed. You can’t think of any other President of a country who would have done that!
His vision for the nation was based on equality, the dignity of the individual and justice, social, economic and political, to every Indian. Only then can India succeed and everybody sing the song of India, he used to say.
During his Presidency he was always comfortable, except on two occasions, when his unease was visible. When he had to give his consent to the Office of Profit Bill, 2006 after it was sent for the second time by Parliament, and when he had to approve the ordinance on Disqualification of Elected Representatives in 2004 as those were sent to him by the Cabinet for second time.
He was an icon for the youth. He used to say aiming small is a crime. Youth should have the courage to think differently and explore unexplored paths. Difficulties would come but don’t be afraid of them.. Overcome them by your intellect and hard work.
The man who pioneered India’s missile programme was always proud of his work at the Indian Space Research Organisation and other scientific institutions. He used to believe that a scientific approach could find a solution to every problem, he used to say.
Though a religious man, he believed all religions are like beautiful islands; but there is no connectivity between them. We should strive to achieve this connectivity and transform religion into spirituality. For him religion and morality were the same.
A man of vision, he always worked in mission mode. He had a mission to meet 10 lakh students and interact with them. He completed this by the time left Rashtrapati Bhavan. He continued with this till his last breath. His child-like simplicity was an instant hit.
He got the sobriquet of being the People’s President because of his humility and accessibility. President Kalam always worked towards building consensus rather than ramming down decisions.
He came from a modest background, but educated himself and worked hard to rise to the top. He was simply the missile man, whose books were prime-sellers, whose lectures were always house full. He was adored by children as he would to give them easy-to-digest messages.
(S M Khan was Press Secretary to the President from 2002 to 2007, and is now Registrar of Newspapers for India)