Is Abdul Kalam talented

Abdul Kalam, India's "rocket father" and new president

In the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the presidential palace of New Delhi, a few thousand servants have put in good shape the 340 rooms and the huge gardens into which the people are allowed once a year. The changing of the guard in the highest state office is imminent. On July 24, President Kocheril Raman Narayanan said goodbye and hands over the keys to his successor. He was elected last Monday by the 776 members of both houses of parliament and by 4,120 people's representatives in all federal states. The new Rashtrapati is called Avul Pakiar Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. He likes to be called the "rocket father of India".

The 70-year-old played a major role in the development of the surface-to-surface missile "Prithvi" and "Agni", the anti-aircraft missile "Akash" and the anti-tank missile "Nag". Kalam can also refer to its participation in the nuclear tests in Rajasthan four years ago. This way of life made him popular, earned him the highest civil order Bharat Ratna and an honorary doctorate, but also brought him criticism. Opponents see him as a representative of petty militarist nationalism.

For seven years, Kalam formed teams of talented researchers in the State Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and led them to exceptional achievements. In recent years he has paid particular attention to the next generation. The students are expected to fulfill his dreams, including nuclear-powered airplanes and biotechnological brain implants for the disabled. India needs young leaders with visions who can transform the country into a knowledge society, a nation free from poverty and illiteracy. He passionately formulates this thought again and again, also in a book that is coming out these days. The title "Ignited Senses: Unleashing India's Inner Power" proves his credo. After surviving a helicopter crash, Abdul Kalam came up with the idea for the book, in which he wanted to explain why India, blessed with resources and talent, fails in crucial situations. When he was unexpectedly nominated as a presidential candidate by the governing coalition and the strongest opposition party, however, he followed the advice of friends to defuse his critical reflections.

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931 in Dhanushkodi, southern India, into a Muslim family. His father was a ferryman and ferried devout Hindus to the famous Rameswaram temple. The family had to work hard; a sister of Kalams sold her jewelry so the brother could go to school and college. He was the first in the family to go to college. The nearby Hindu temple must have exerted a magical charm, even stronger than the Koran and the duties of Islam. Thus Abdul Kalam took a liking to the "Gita" and other ancient Hindu scriptures, learned to play the Rudra Veena, a stringed instrument, and became an admirer of Ram and Krishna.

Faced with these tendencies, fundamentalist Muslims ask whether the "rocket father" is still one of them at all. Especially since the Hindu fundamentalists use the "model Muslim" for their propaganda. With the cool composure of the technician, Kalam avoided taking a position on this sensitive issue. In a seven-page election letter to all elected representatives, he merely stated that he felt fully committed to the principles of secularism in the Indian constitution.

Like many Indians, Kalam is a strict vegetarian. And like Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, he's a bachelor with a poetic streak. According to the older generation, the head of state's white hair looks a bit weird. But here, he announced, he would not compromise.

The circumstances in his parents' house shaped him so much that he still prefers simple clothes and rubber flip-flops to this day. Until a few days ago he lived in the boarding school of the Anna Technical University of Chennai (Madras) in an unadorned room and ate in the university cafeteria, like the students he taught as a professor emeritus. He has to part with this life if he wants to represent India of which he is so proud. A new world awaits him in Rashtrapati Bhawan on Raisina Hill.