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       Turning Points: A Journey Through Challenges, p.1
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           A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
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Turning Points: A Journey Through Challenges


  TURNING POINTS

  A Journey through

  Challenges

  A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

  HarperCollins Publishers India

  a joint venture with

  New Delhi

  CONTENTS

  PREFACE

  1. WHEN CAN I SING A SONG OF INDIA?

  2. MY NINTH LECTURE AT ANNA UNIVERSITY

  3. SEVEN TURNING POINTS OF MY LIFE

  4. THE INTERACTIVE PRESIDENT

  5. WHAT CAN I GIVE TO THE NATION?

  6. LEARNING FROM OTHERS

  7. TOWARDS A COMPETITIVE NATION

  8. THE CANDLE AND THE MOTH

  9. MY VISIT TO GUJARAT

  10. AT HOME ABROAD

  11. REJUVENATING THE HEART OF INDIA

  12. IN THE GARDEN

  13. CONTROVERSIAL DECISIONS

  14. AFTER THE PRESIDENCY

  EPILOGUE

  AFTERWORD

  APPENDIX-I: INTERVIEW

  APPENDIX-II: MISSION MODE IMPLEMENTATION

  INDEX

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  PREFACE

  My book Wings of Fire covered my life up to 1992. Ever since it was published in 1999 the response has been astounding and the book has sold more than a million copies. More heartening still is that it appears to have made a positive impact on thousands of people, helping them change their lives for the better.

  As I wrote Turning Points the thought occurred to me why I was writing the book. One could say that my story echoes the concerns, anxieties and aspirations of many Indians. Like them I started my life from the lowest step in the ladder. My first job was as senior scientific assistant. Gradually I moved up to greater responsibilities, finally assuming the office of the president of India. Certainly much has happened in the past decade and more which needs recounting. One could say that it has been a very intense experience.

  However, my reasons for writing Turning Points were slightly different. Seeing the response generated by Wings of Fire I felt that if in the same way this book too could benefit a few people it would be well worth the effort. In fact, if even one person or one family find their life changing for the better because of something gleaned from this book, I will feel fulfilled. Hence this book for you, dear reader.

  A.P.J. ABDUL KALAM

  30 May 2012

  New Delhi

  1

  WHEN CAN I SING A SONG OF INDIA?

  Keep loving nature and care for its blessings

  Then you can see divinity all over

  It was 24 July 2007, the last day of my presidency. It was a day filled with many engagements. In the morning I was busy with personal work. Later in the day, starting from 3.25 p.m., there was a short interview with Rajdeep Sardesai and Dilip Venkatraman from CNN-IBN, followed by a meeting with E.S.L. Narasimhan, governor of Chhattisgarh. After this I was to meet Dr Ramesh Pokhariyal ‘Nishank’, minister of health and family welfare and science and technology, Uttarakhand. There was a meeting with Ms Charishma Thankappan, a student of Delhi’s Hindu College, along with her parents and five others, and then at 4.00 p.m. with Sunil Lal, chief of protocol, Ministry of External Affairs, along with his wife, Gitanjali, and their daughter, Nitika. And so it went with several other farewell calls until 8 p.m., when I was to host a dinner for the President-elect, the Vice President, the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.

  In all the round of farewells and meeting callers, speaking to friends and seeing to it that my few belongings were packed – the two suitcases, so to say, that I had said was all I would take away with me – there was an unspoken thought that was in the air. Whosoever met me or talked to me had one question uppermost in their mind: What would I be doing? Had I worked it out? Would I go back to teaching? Would I retire from active life? Unlikely as this last was to anyone who knows me. For now the last five years at Rashtrapati Bhavan were fresh in my mind. The welcoming flowers of the Mughal Garden, where Ustad Bismillah Khan gave his last performance and many other musicians also performed, the fragrance of the herbal gardens, the dancing peacocks, the guards who stood alert under the hot summer sun and in the biting cold of winter – all had become part of my daily life. What a rich experience these five years had been!

  People from every field and walk of life had poured out their ideas for the development of the nation to me. They vied with each other to tell me how they had contributed their mite. Politicians at every level shared their vision for developing their constituencies. Scientists showed their hunger to help solve pressing issues. Artists and writers expressed eloquently their love for India. Religious leaders shared a common platform to speak on spiritual harmony and unity of minds. Specialists from different fields shared their thoughts on building a knowledge society. The legal and judicial communities frequently offered their ideas on many current topics like fair treatment for all citizens, fast-track disposal of cases and e-judiciary. The non-resident Indians whenever they met me, showed a desire to give back to the country of their birth whatever they could to see it develop and improve.

  My visits to different parts of the country always provided me with unique experiences, which made me understand the aspirations of the people, the good work done by many, and above all, the power of the youth.

  My interaction with the medical fraternity was wide-ranging, be it in their efforts to extend affordable medical care to every rural citizen, encourage research, ease the life of differently abled people, promote the care of senior citizens or spread the message of lifestyle changes for preventive health care. Nurses who met me both in India and abroad volunteered to set up centres of high quality care, particularly for people in villages.

  My interactions with farmers, including cotton farmers in distress, enabled me to understand the problems and challenges they face and helped me formulate and convey my ideas to agricultural scientists.

  My meeting with postmen triggered the thought that the postal system could play a pivotal role in a knowledge society with postmen becoming knowledge officers in rural areas.

  Policemen met me and gave their ideas on police reforms, improving police station infrastructure and the application of information technology to police functioning, ideas which I could share in the forum considering police reforms.

  The panchayat presidents, particularly the women presidents, explained their plans and programmes for improving their villages and the hurdles they faced.

  Wherever I went, teachers assured me that their mission was to groom the youth for nation building. They would strive to impart values to the young which would help them become enlightened citizens, they said.

  All these enriching experiences culminated in the design of oaths, which summarized the desirable actions to be taken by each segment of the society, whether it be children, parents, teachers, Servicemen, administrators, lawyers, doctors, nurses, or others. The administration of the oaths became part of the interaction with different groups of people. Generally these oaths comprised five, seven or ten points pertinent to that section of society. The gatherings were normally large, and the recitation of these oaths brought the entire audience together in a common purpose and conveyed a message that they could all carry with them through their lives.

  One of the features that never ceased to astonish me was the sheer volume of letters, emails and other correspondence that used to arrive while I was president. The letters were from children, youth, adults, teachers, scientists – just about everyone. Unbelievably, there were thousands of letters every day. It was not possible to answer all the queries or to provide the kind of help required. But we tried. In many cases we forwarded the letters to the officials concerned for furt
her action. If it was for medical treatment we tried to suggest a suitable hospital. At other times we pitched in with advice or suggestions ourselves. Even at times with a small monetary assistance. It was astonishing how in all the optimism, faith and hope that the letters showed our countrymen as possessing, there were also these vast islands of suffering, pain and destitution. One letter that touched me came from a young girl whose family was in straitened circumstances. Somewhere in that haunting letter I sensed a spirit and an ability to change her life for the better. We forwarded her letter to someone we thought might be able to help, with surprising consequences.

  ‘My family is in trouble. My family is facing problems from 23 years. There is not a single day when I and my family never saw a single happy moment. I was good in studies. I stand first from my center in 5th class. I want to became a doctor. But after that I never got first stand. I always got second or third place. In my B.A. I only got 50%. I could not join medical because I always feel stress. I am in stress for 14 years …’

  There were many such letters. It was touching to see the faith they showed in the ability of the President’s Office to help, and their honesty and complete lack of guile.

  In contrast were the letters from various associations and institutions. ‘Dear President Kalam, we are hosting a conference on advanced nanotechnology (or some other specialized subject, such as biodiversity, carbon composites, rocket propulsion technology, cardiothoracic surgery, infectious diseases, strategy for reducing pendency of court cases, or e-governance) and we would like you to deliver the keynote address …’ These of course were much easier to answer. It was just a matter of dates, and my knowledge of the subject. Both that young girl looking for an opportunity to do well in life and these conferences on cutting-edge technology were two facets that needed to be addressed for India 2020.

  With these thoughts, I asked myself what I should do next. Should I merely put down my reminiscences or was there something else I could do? It was not easy to decide. One key event that day made my job a little easier – the preparation for my farewell address to the nation.

  I decided that I should in my address thank the citizens and share the development profile for India, which had been evolved with them and for them over the last five years.

  In essence, I told them, My dear citizens, let us resolve to continue to work towards realizing the mission of a country that is prosperous, healthy, secure, peaceful and happy and continues on a sustainable growth path, where the rural and urban divide has been reduced to a thin line and where the governance is responsive, transparent and corruption-free. There were some other points in the ten-point profile for a developed India that I drew up, which I list further on in the book.

  This then remains my mission in life: to connect the billion hearts and minds of the people of India in our multicultural society through the ten pillars of development and to embed the self-confidence that ‘we can do it’. I will always be with you, dear citizens, in the great mission of making India a developed nation before 2020.

  Here are a few events that lightened my horizon, brought a smile to my lips, taught me lessons and engaged me with the love of my countrymen.

  2

  MY NINTH LECTURE AT ANNA UNIVERSITY

  The ignited mind of the youth is

  the most powerful resource

  on the earth, above the earth

  and under the earth

  A yellow bird sings on the jamun tree and makes my morning walk a pleasure. I keep a lookout for the pair of hornbills that sometimes drift into my garden. Ten Rajaji Marg is my abode after Rashtrapati Bhavan. I am told that it once housed Edwin Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi.

  Time passes like the wind, keeping me busy in teaching and research in India and abroad. The enthusiasm and resolve on the young faces I see in the classrooms gives me energy too.

  The last few years have demonstrated to me the passionate desire of the people to realize the mission of a developed India and their commitment to contribute whatever they can. As I think back and revisit my presidential days some key events come to mind. The events represent the diverse characteristics of this diverse country, with its glorious past and challenging present. But one message is clear: India will be a developed nation by 2020.

  The morning of 10 June 2002 was like any other day in the beautiful environment of Anna University, where I had been working since December 2001. I had been enjoying my time in the large, tranquil campus, working with professors and inquisitive students on research projects and teaching. The authorized strength of my class was sixty students, but during every lecture, the classroom had more than 350 students and there was no way one could control the number of participants. My purpose was to understand the aspirations of the youth, to share my experiences from my many national missions and to evolve approaches for the application of technology for societal transformation through a specially designed course of ten lectures for postgraduate students.

  What do I mean by national mission? I am referring to the space launch vehicle, SLV-3, the IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme), the 1998 nuclear tests, and the India 2020 report prepared by TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council). All in all, these had a measurable impact on development and setting the growth trajectory of the nation. The objective of the SLV-3 programme was to launch a satellite indigenously for placing the 40 kg Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit. The satellite was intended for making ionospheric measurements. The IGMDP was intended to fulfil the need for force multiplier missile systems for national security, both tactical and strategic. The Agni V missile is its latest success. The nuclear tests were held on 11 and 13 May 1998. With these, India became a nuclear weapon state. TIFAC resulted in generating the road map for India to transform it into an economically developed nation by 2020.

  It was my ninth lecture, entitled ‘Vision to Mission’, and it included several case studies. When I finished, I had to answer numerous questions and my class extended from a one-hour teaching session to two hours. After the lecture, I returned to my office, as on any other day, and had lunch with a group of research students. Prasangam, the cook, served us delicious food with a lot of smiles. After lunch, I prepared for my next class, and in the evening, I returned to my rooms.

  As I was walking back, Prof. A. Kalanidhi, the vice chancellor of Anna University, joined me. He said that my office had received many telephone calls during the day and someone was frantically trying to get in touch with me. As soon as I reached my rooms, I found the telephone was ringing. When I answered, a voice on the other end said, ‘The prime minister wants to talk to you.’ While I was waiting to be connected to the PM, Chandrababu Naidu, who was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, called me on my cellphone. He told me to expect an important call from the prime minister, adding, ‘Please do not say no.’

  While I was talking to Naidu, the call from Atal Bihari Vajpayee materialized. He said, ‘Kalam, how is your academic life?’

  ‘It is fantastic,’ I answered.

  Vajpayee continued, ‘We have some very important news for you. Just now, I am coming from a special meeting attended by leaders of all the coalition parties. We have decided unanimously that the nation needs you as its Rashtrapati. I have to announce this tonight. I would like to have your concurrence. I need only a “Yes”, not a “No”.’ Vajpayee, I might mention, was heading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition of almost two dozen parties, and it was not always easy getting unanimity.

  I hadn’t even had time to sit down after entering the room. Different images of the future appeared before me. One was that of being always surrounded by students and teachers. In the other, I was addressing Parliament with a vision for the nation. A decision matrix was evolving in my mind. I said, ‘Vajpayeeji (as I normally addressed him), can you give me two hours’ time to decide? It is also necessary that there be a consensus among all political parties on my nomination as presidential candidate.’
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br />   Vajpayee said, ‘After you agree, we will work for a consensus.’

  Over the next two hours, I must have made thirty telephone calls to my close friends. Among them were people in academia and friends in the civil services and in politics too. One view that came across was that I was enjoying an academic life, which is my passion and love, and I shouldn’t disturb it. The second view was that this was an opportunity to put forth the India 2020 vision in front of the nation and Parliament, and that I must jump at it. Exactly after two hours, I was connected to the prime minister. I said, ‘Vajpayeeji, I consider this to be a very important mission and I would like to be an all-party candidate.’

  He said, ‘Yes, we will work for it, thank you.’

  The news travelled very fast indeed. Within 15 minutes, the news of my choice as presidential candidate was known throughout the country. Immediately, I was bombarded with an unmanageable number of telephone calls, my security was intensified and a large number of visitors gathered in my room.

  The same day, Vajpayee consulted with Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the opposition leader, about the choice of candidate. When Mrs Gandhi asked whether the NDA’s choice was final, the prime minister responded in the affirmative. After due consultation with her party members and coalition partners, Mrs Gandhi announced the support of the Indian National Congress (INC) to my candidature on 17 June 2002. I would have loved to get the support of the Left parties also but they decided to nominate their own candidate. As soon as I agreed to be a candidate for the presidency, a huge number of write-ups began to appear about me. Many questions were raised by the media. In essence, they were asking, how could a non-political person, particularly a scientist, become president of the nation?

  On 18 June, at my first press conference after filing the nomination papers for my candidacy as president, journalists asked many questions regarding the Gujarat issue (the state had been racked by riots and there were concerns about how these were handled), Ayodhya (the Ram Janambhoomi issue was always in the news), the nuclear tests and about my plans in Rashtrapati Bhavan. I mentioned that India needed an educated political class with compassion as the cornerstone of decision making. On the Ayodhya issue, I mentioned that what was needed was education, economic development and respect for human beings. With economic development, societal differences would also reduce. I also pledged that I would maintain simplicity amidst the pomp and glory of Rashtrapati Bhavan. As president, on any complex issue, I would consult the country’s leading constitutional experts. Decisions on issues such as President’s Rule would be made on the basis of what people needed, rather than on what a few people wanted.

 
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