A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, Bharat Ratna and far-sighted architect of India's space and missile programmes, passed away in Shillong on Monday.
Kalam was an institution-builder and a team-builder, a visionary and a dreamer, who always wanted to build a strong and self-reliant India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Defence Minister R. Venkataraman, scientific advisor to the Defence Minister V.S. Arunachalam and Kalam were a formidable team in the early 1980s who wanted to weld into India into a puissant country in science and technology. Kalam devised every stratagem in the book to beat the embargoes and sanction regimes including the Missile Technology Control Regime imposed on India following the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1974 and later in 1998.
As K. Radhakrishnan, former Chairman, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said, "Kalam had a single-minded approach in leading projects and his connect with other scientists and the younger generation distinguished him from everybody else. His taking over the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) programme as its Project Director led to its spectacular success in 1980 and it was the turning point in India's space programme.”
In the 1960s, Kalam was at the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station near Thiruvananthapuram, and he built ISRO's sounding rocket programme to probe the upper atmosphere. The scientist’s puckish sense of humour came to the fore during celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the first sounding rocket. Now President, Kalam began his address to the gathering from Rashtrapathi Bhavan thus: “Ten , nine, eight, seven...” His countdown sent ISRO’s scientists and engineers into raptures.
Civilian rockets, military missiles and aircraft were in his DNA. He was fond of saying that "It was a joy to study the structure of an aircraft” when he was a student of aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology, Chromepet, Chennai. In 1983, Kalam left ISRO and joined the DRDO as director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) at Hyderabad. As director of DRDL, he envisioned India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and led teams that built India's Agni, Akash, Prithvi and Nag missile programmes.
He was instrumental in forging India's collaboration with Russia to build the world's first supersonic cruise missile called BrahMos. As Director-General of DRDO and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, he played an important role India's nuclear tests in 1998.
Kalam never hesitated to take a stand on issues - be it in support for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, the setting up of the neutrino observatory in Theni, India's nuclear weapons programme or the strategic missile programme.