‘What is so sacrosanct about A.P.J. Abdul Kalam?’

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: The larger-than-life, conversation-stopping image of the former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is the fruit of assiduous self-promotion, audacious political opportunism and pumped-up nationalism, combined with the gee-whiz ignorance of an uncritical media.

# A missile technologist who is routinely confused for a “nuclear physicist”.

# A scientist without a formal PhD—who was turned away from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) because he didn’t have the “requisite scientific credentials”—who happily uses the appendage “Dr”.

# A reverse-engineer who has presided over several failures as the in-charge of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme who is unquestioningly called “Missile Man”.

# And, although the masterstroke to make him President came initially from the Samajwadi Party, it is the BJP which has appropriated the Thirukkural-quoting, veena-playing, vegetarian “Kalam Iyer” as its favourite Muslim, thanks in part, as the Princeton scholar M.V. Ramana wrote, because of his ability to “dress up even mediocre work with the tricolour to pass them off as great achievements.”

However, in a nation thirsting for heroes, the question marks were airbrushed out of the frame by “inspiring” speeches bordering on the infantile and “motivational” books bordering on the banal.

Thankfully, some of the super-reverential mythology around Kalam is being dismantled.

Twice in the last few days, two prominent nuclear scientists have stood up to question Kalam’s clean chit to the “Pokhran II” tests conducted by the BJP-led NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee during its 13-month reign in 1998.

To rewind, Kalam’s former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) colleague K. Santhanam described the “thermonuclear device” that was tested as a”fizzle”. Meaning: the yield was lower than what was claimed, and was certainly not what was desired. Santhanam said more tests were required to perfect what the device was supposed to produce: a hydrogen bomb.

But “Major General Prithviraj“, as Kalam was codenamed during Pokhran II, jumped in and declared the tests a success. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too butted in, saying Kalam’s certificate was the last word.

Result: The gloves are off in the very secretive nuclear fraternity.

First P.K. Iyengar, the former chairman of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, hit back:

“What is so sacrosanct about Abdul Kalam? Even Albert Einstein made mistakes. Before the scientists on the site called New Delhi to confirm the tests, they should have checked the yield of the thermo-nuclear bomb with the seismic centre in London, with which India has a co-operation agreement. Dr Kalam did not check and doubts about the yield were there after the tests.”

Now, H.N. Sethna, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who was the guiding force behind Pokhran I in 1974, has added his bit, saying Kalam was “not qualified” to speak on the subject:

“What did he (Kalam) know about extracting, making explosive-grade uranium? He didn’t know a thing. By being the President he appeared to wear the stature. He relied on atomic energy to gain additional stature.”

By no yardstick do M/s Iyengar, Sethna & Co represent the last word on the subject of Kalam, but by being unafraid to question an icon, they have done the nation (and Kalam) a service by bringing some balance to the myth-building.

Or have they?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Should a former president fall at a Godman’s feet?

Surely, you must be joking, Mr President

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65 Responses to “‘What is so sacrosanct about A.P.J. Abdul Kalam?’”

  1. Cool Dude Says:


  2. tsubba Says:

    honorable sir,
    exactly the same thing can be said about us. what do we know about scientist and PhD, what do we known forward and reverse engineering and what do we know about modest or immodest achievements and dressing it up in any color to declare kalam is fizzle or sizzle?

    we dont even know enough to understand what santhanam has said. your description of the main issue is so pathetic it is laffable, that why you have dressed up that modest understanding:

    the yield was lower than what was claimed, and was certainly not what was desired. Santhanam said more tests were required to perfect what the device was supposed to produce: a hydrogen bomb.

    with a whole lot ad-hominem to pass of this article as some sort of a great analysis.

    somehow being media has reduced to playing to the gallery all the time. take all issues and reduce it to the most simplistic faultline.

  3. Rajesh R Says:

    Why are these people crying now?? why was this not reported when the test was done?? these so called scientists should limit their bashings only for the test results, they shouldn’t berate a first grade citizen like Dr. Kalam in public…

  4. Which main? What Cross? Says:

    These are known facts and it’s something that the nation ignores. But then, truth is truth. And it’s good to be reminded.

    To his credit, APJ knows how to communicate and inspire people and children. While there are many of us who find his style silly and will immediately change the channel or stay a mile away from his books and poetry, it has had a positive effect on thousands. It’s also good to have someone who speaks for science in this nation. No one imagined that the office of the President of India could be used as he did, before him.

  5. Kingkhan Says:

    If APJ is a bag of gas, then why didnt these honorable gents, come out in the open earlier.

    But as rightly pointed out, no man is perfect, APJ might have committed his share of mistakes. But the guy is an icon for Gods sake. He has been a flag bearer for a long time. And hats off to him.

  6. ERR Says:

    Was Jinnah a patriot? Did the Nuclear test go well? What next? Why stop at that. Let’s go back some more and keep discussing things ‘ad nauseam’. Was Subash Bose foolish not to join Gandhi & co in the freedom struggle ?Say this in Bengal and stir up a controversy. Was Shivaji a coward to fight his enemies hiding behind hills?Ditto in Maharashtra. Such questions if raised on TV shows and books can cause more harm To India than from her enemies. China was looking at possibility of breaking up India to small size biscuits to gobble up.China need have no fears. We will ourselves gladly do it for them!

  7. Khan Says:

    It is not surprising at all that “Superior birth” walas question “what is sacrosanct” about kalam?? As we all know by now, all DRDO employees are “Scientist” one way or the other and each and every R & D is nothing more than a attempt in reverse-engineer russian weapons.

    So Mr.Iyer tell us something about yourself and the new patriot K. Santhanam, please do tell us why you were keeping quite for 11 long years?? Is the establishment done you some thing?? no hafta -pani!!!

  8. Tuna Fish Says:

    Please do not get confused between what goes on when you do research and the name give to the position. Both a scientist and a PhD student do the same thing. IISc’s approval for doing a PhD is not the only yardstick to decide how good a researcher you are. Pushing the boundaries of science is enough to deem you a researcher.

    Research is slow in itself. One is bound to encounter thousands of “failed” experiments before a “successful” result. (There is no wrong result. You have only proved the non- existence of something). A mere doesn’t-matter to someone not in the field, might have been a breakthrough in the field.

    I wonder if it really makes a difference if Kalam is a missile scientist or a nuclear physicist when he is the president of India. Whats important, rather different though is that he comes from research background, while highlighting that to a world where India’s fame is not derived through advances in scientific research.

  9. harish Says:

    Utter nonsense.
    There is no logic behind the arguments.
    Being a nuclear pariah what do you expect to do other than reverse engineering? And why is reverse engineering so demeaning??

    BTW, Kalam has received doctorates from many universities. I dunno if Dr. Rajkumar has a Ph.D to be called Dr. I dont think Steve Jobs has even completed his graduate school.

    It looks like nothing but professional jealousy. Other than name calling they dont have anything else to speak of about Kalam.

    Churumuri cant get any more stupid.

  10. Complex Says:

    What is so sacrosanct about Pratibha Patil?
    What is so sacrosanct about Sonia Gandhi?
    What is so sacrosanct about Rahul Gnadhi?
    What is so sacrosanct about Priyanka Gandhi?
    What is so sacrosanct about Manmohan Singh?

    To be fair, we have to question everyone’s credentials.

  11. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    Even when Kalam was in the office, he was regularly written off as “flavour of the season” who shall diminish away soon.

    # A missile technologist who is routinely confused for a “nuclear physicist”.

    That’s a gift of our brethren in the fourth estate.

    How Science Reporting works: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1623

    # A scientist without a formal PhD—who was turned away from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) because he didn’t have the “requisite scientific credentials”—who happily uses the appendage “Dr”.

    That’s due to the penmanship of holy typesetters, poor fellas assumed that a man of such popularity should have at least an honoris causa or two, though they don’t know that free degrees are not to be flaunted.

    The man himself never uses “Dr” anywhere.

    See the books authored/contributed by him:


    # A reverse-engineer who has presided over several failures as the in-charge of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme who is unquestioningly called “Missile Man”.

    At least something in India is somewhat productive other than its population.

    # And, although the masterstroke to make him President came initially from the Samajwadi Party, it is the BJP which has appropriated the Thirukkural-quoting, veena-playing, vegetarian “Kalam Iyer” as its favourite Muslim, thanks in part, as the Princeton scholar M.V. Ramana wrote, because of his ability to “dress up even mediocre work with the tricolour to pass them off as great achievements.”

    Mulayam and co. always have this respect for the men involved in Defence Technology, they had got Raja Ramanna as a Minister of State for Defence too. Kalam recognising all things positive albeit petty, is a good thing, the media and the govt. mostly don’t even take notice of them until someone abroad recognises them.

    I give more importance to a Kalam recognising the talents of a Soliga kid who could climb up and down a peak in Biligirirangana Hills in a record time than the diktats of a retired bureaucrat or a stupid politician.

    I have seen humps on Mysore’s roads removed and filled with gravel for Shankar Dayal Sharma’s visit, removed and coated with a layer of tar for KR Narayanan’s visit but Kalam came more often than all of his predecessors put together and he risking a unplanned detour to a remote village which lacked even a metal road, responding to an invitation of a young school teacher, that’s what makes him special.

    After a long time, we had a president matching the stature of the better presidents of yore, everything is a distant memory with the latest president. We heard about Kalam’s gleeful interaction with us, the subjects but the present one must have a really different conception of democracy and its features.

    http://www.thehindu.com/2009/08/01/stories/2009080158340100.htm :(

    If he’s erred, it is unfortunate, nothing more.

  12. Hiker Says:

    With Santhanam sir’s revelation (with govt’s aashirvada or not), one thing is clear – Pokhran 3 is now a question of when.

    Also see this – http://www.indianexpress.com/news/pak-enhancing-ncapability-to-target-india-us-report/510154/

  13. C Says:

    good post.

  14. Prasad Says:

    We should also do this!

  15. Gana Says:

    Well said ERR!! cookin up controversies is only genuine work for media and to support that we have some mean minded individuals. Those people who raise these questions now should think about future and try contribute something to the country than cursing the history…

  16. Karthik Says:

    U r jelous if Indian icons??

    How much did your commi bosses pay you to plant such hopeless stories ??

  17. Coffee Addict Says:

    Superb! Must expose this mediocre. I met him a year before he became President at the IISc Campus, Bangalore. I was not impressed at all.

    He said ‘ If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have it nothing else matters. Answer is the same. Choice is yours ‘.

    I want to ask Dr (honourary!). Kalam what is your choice sir?

  18. Hiker Says:

    Abbabba en talent ri nimdu coffee Addictre. One meeting nalle obba scientistu mediocre antha conclude maDo levellu! oLLe traininge koTTidaare nimma channelnavaru!

  19. Hanuman Says:

    Every one who knew him at MIT ( not that MIT, but Madras Institute of Technology) as a student and as a DMIT ( diploma in Madras Institute of Technology, equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree) regarded him as mediocre(really bright students would have gone to IISc which had by far the best Aeronautical Dept at that time and was linked to the National Aeronautical Laboratory. They say his caste as a muslim helped him to get into central research laboratories, and the following promotions. With that educational background difficult to see how he was able to achieve so called successes associated with him say his contemporaries in the laboratories. But they accept that he had the knack of building up a mediocre work thanks to very good networking with politicians. Again being a muslim made him to be acceptable as the Presidential candidate for all the parties and he became the president of India, a position occupied by that illustrious giant Servepalli Radhakrishnan.

    Regarding the nuclear explosion, the later era meant that India did not have Homi Bhaba who was respected internationally as a real and formidable nuclear scientist and only one of a few students of Paul Dirac the legendary particle physicist and the Noble Prize winner.

  20. Hanuman Says:

    I can understand why these people kept quiet for such long years. Kalam had formidable support of politicians and coupled with him being a muslim would have landed these people in trouble. Please do not compare the mistakes of this mediocre scientist with those by Einstein.

  21. srinath Says:

    He has come to our college NIT Warangal.. He talked about need to make progress in Si VLSI technology and nanotechnology to make India super power.. I felt he uses these fancy words very loosely to capture gullible audience to make an impression.. Si VLSI has already on the verge of becoming obsolete… And he is not a simple man the hair cut he sports costs 500 Rs per week (Source : The Hindu Article on Abdul Kalam by C. Rammohan Reddy) . You cannot talk against a very famous man who has kept all the populace in his thrall.. I think its time for honoring real heroes ……..

  22. rajachandra Says:

    I had the privilege of working under him and sharing the same lodge in Thiruvanathapuram in 1976. To call him mediocre after a chance meeting is very unfortunate and stupid ! Even in 1976, he was an inspiring Project director who led a young team ( which also included Dr. Madhavan Nair) to believe in themselves and work hard. Likes of Dr. Sethna would have been justified in questioning then : what Kalam knows about satellite Launch Vehicles ? Early launches of SLV-3 & PSLV were failures for the mundane vocabulary. Every failure is a stepping stone to unravel the unknown and greater glory . Indeed ISRO has come a long way since then. Knowledge is not a personal fiefdom of any individual. Even otherwise, to talk about success or otherwise of Pokharan in public is not National Interest. One cannot discern any difference between Sethna/Iyengar/santanam and Jaswanth Singh !

  23. Shantanu Says:

    @Not a Witty Nick:

    Hats off to you dude. Perfect words. I’d like to add a few:

    1. Kalam was one of the only Presidents who refused to be a mere rubber stamp and turned down the Office of Profit bill.

    2. Mulayam Singh Yadav, however disputable and shady his party members’ and his records be, was one of the best defence ministers ever.

    Also you make a presidential nomination sound like a political gimmick. No wonder people like you actually endorse and promote such moves so that you get some cheap bytes.

    3. Dr. Kalam(I don’t give a shit to what you think, he is learned enough to deserve that degree, several dunces who aren’t carry that tag shamelessly, in India a PhD is something you can have by bringing groceries for your guide, so stop making a fuss about it), as witty nick points out, never bloats about his achievements. He didn’t even rake up the issue of him being frisked. Imagine another politician in his place, they’d have lapped up the opportunity.

    4. The Rashtrapati Bhavan was at its liveliest when he was around. He even had a website made. What if he didn’t have a degree, he at least had vision. And that my friend, makes all the difference in the world.

    5. Try reverse engineering sometime. I have. If you think it is as easy as writing this article, you are gravely mistaken. Genius works both ways dear and considering that you aren’t a rocket scientist yourself, you guess at his reverse engineering is obviously based on the opinion of people who envy Dr. Kalam.

    6. He is called Missile Man because no other scientist rose up to the occasion and be a hero. Being a hero needs responsibility. The way he handles media attention(and people like you) is admirable.

    7. When you claim that his books are infantile and bordering on the banal, let me ask you what is it that you find offensive? Not only is it a personal experience or his dream, it is inspiring in parts. I am not a fan of his writing either but I am sure of one thing – he is better than the Chetan Bhagats, Monk who sell their Ferraris and Chicken soups out there – he writes from experience. Respect his wisdom, don’t ridicule it. If you really want to write about things bordering on banal, write about those 100 bucks novels which are propping up like seaweed from wanna be Chetan Bhagats. Read some of them and you’ll know what banal is.

    8. To mention your words:

    ” The larger-than-life, conversation-stopping image of the former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is the fruit of assiduous self-promotion, audacious political opportunism and pumped-up nationalism, combined with the gee-whiz ignorance of an uncritical media. ”

    Check yourself when you say that he resorted to political opportunism, you are way off your rocker. He is one of the most unbiased Presidents the country has had. Not inclined to any political thought, no special favors to anyone. He snubbed and stood against the entire parliament when he refused the Office of Profit bill. They had the better of him but at least he fought.

    And pray what is wrong with – pumped up nationalism?

    And his life and image may seem a lot like Self-promotion but had he been the kind, he’d have used the media much more effectively after his term was over. When he was in power he was in news. Had he been publicity hungry, he’d not have let go of any opportunity to make scandal or news.

    After all He must also have some gloves in the secretive Nuclear facility by their balls.

    And do you really want us to believe that the media is uncritical or ignorant? When has the media spared anyone? Name one and only one Hero/idol/anyone whom the media has spared?

    Don’t pose as the harbinger of a revolution, the great inquisitive one who dares to challenge the stature of an icon. Because you never had much on him before these scientists came up with this, you were quiet about him. Else you’d be screaming from the top of India Gate about Dr. Kalam, like you are now!

    Questioning anything isn’t wrong. No idol is perfect, they all have their pitfalls. But to question based on baseless or biased arguments is sensationalism of the cheapest variety.

    If you really want to do some good, research this issue, quote facts not opinion. Present balanced thought, arguments and who knows, you might be able to convince us. For now, you’ve miserably failed. And please, pay some respect.


    @Coffee Addict:

    Before you label someone as mediocre, please understand the weight of your words.

    And just because you didn’t understand what he meant doesn’t mean he didn’t make sense.

    Try writing a book, like Wings of Fire, try writing anything. Try talking to children, convincing them that the country’s future depends on them.

    Try pushing the country and its youth towards research, try talking them into believing that science is exciting.

    It is a shame that you label someone as mediocre when your own credentials aren’t known/doubtful.

    Think about it.

  24. harish Says:

    Well said.
    @Coffee addict,

    Kalam is surely less mediocre than the present rubber stamp. For that matter the way you are making a comment on Kalam based on 1 statement that you heard from him shows how stupid you are. What was it that didnt impress you ?? Why make lofty rhetoric statements? I guess you are the camera person in CNN-IBN in the guise of journalist D.P.Sateesh. So better stick to shooting videos for CNN-IBN rather than
    making judgements on people based on 1 statement. :)

    I hope this comment of mine will pass muster :P

  25. Faldo Says:

    @ERR and Gana you put it rightly. Our media only seems to be interested in ads (advertisements) and ad nauseum.

  26. black sabbath Says:

    Good questions raised here. Was it politics mixed with patriotism against scientific facts after the nuclear tests? Truth has to be revealed. MMS calling APJ’s words as final is dumb. If two people (santhanam and sethna) have raised questions, they need to be answered and proven wrong…simple as that.

  27. sisya Says:

    ha! finally someone calls a spade a spade and finally our incompetent, corrupt media summons the balls to publish it! wonder what took so long to call our first ‘muslim quota’ President’s bluff. forget PhD, has this so-called scientist even published a paper in any journal worth its name? a search on Google Scholar only brings up his oNa vedanta.

  28. Ankit Says:

    “What is so sacrosanct about Pratibha Patil?
    What is so sacrosanct about Sonia Gandhi?
    What is so sacrosanct about Rahul Gnadhi?
    What is so sacrosanct about Priyanka Gandhi?
    What is so sacrosanct about Manmohan Singh?”

    LOLs..The answer is that they belong to churumuri’s party. If you ask these folks a question, you are a goddamn communal fascist nazi loving son of a… You get the drift ?

  29. Shrinath Says:

    I commend you for stating it so openly. Yes, Pres.Kalam is not nuclear physicist.

    First. There is nothing sacrosanct about any one person and we can and must ask questions when the need demands it. And this occasion sure demands it.

    Pres. Kalam is a brilliant management guy. He has been known to organize projects and see through their life cycle. No one is questioning his ability as a person or his accomplishments. He is indeed an inspirational figure and a very humble one at that. He did not give in to the right wing concoctions and give orders to execute Ansari in the Parliament bombing.
    Pres. Kalam, was though involved in the Pokhran 1 nuclear tests.

    Having said that, the success of the cryogenic engine and launch vehicles was borrowed from the Russians. India scientists did manage to tweak the system. When India launched its first successful SLV (1979)- US and EU declared that India has now capabilities to manufacture ICBM. The man behind the PSLV is one Satish Dhawan.

    But the central question is – will we ever know the real truth behind Pokhran 2? I highly doubt it.

  30. Simple Says:

    In my earlier posts, i had maintained that APJ was not a revolutionary.

    He did not do a thing as President to change the way the president’s office worked neither did he change anything about the country.

    The Rashtrapathi Bhavan is one of the richest in the world. Spread on 100s of acres and housing 100s of rooms, the presidential home costs 100s of crores for maintenance of one person.

    Even developed countries do not spend so much on a post that is largely ceremonial or rubber stamp. Do we need such exceesses in a country where millions struggle for one meal a day?

    Yes, he gave supposedly inspiring speeches.

    But then there are plenty of politicians/motivational gurus/yoga gurus/filmstars who give speeches.

    We are a nation of speakers. Where are the thinkers and doers?

    Three nuclear specialists/scientists (Iyengar, Santhanman, Sethna) and have said the tests in 98 were a fizzle. APJ was not a nuclear scientist, he was a missile guy.

    Therfore, who has more authority to talk about nuclear bombs? Clearly it is the trio(Iyengar, Santhanman and Sethna)

  31. Rajesh R Says:

    UPA/Congress is having a field day… BJP is in shambles and now they are creating more controversies to finish off BJP once and for all….

  32. Cool Dude Says:

    Rajesh R – Makes sense! Good for politics. If we get better party than BJP in future, from its ashes!

  33. dharma Says:

    Sethna says it all
    What does Kalam know about physics, asks former AEC chief

    “Mr. Kalam was not a scientist and Mr. Santhanam is a physicist and he knew what he was talking. What does Mr. Kalam understand about physics? He can say anything as he was the President and a politician. What Mr. Santhanam said was absolutely correct.” “What did he [Mr. Kalam] know about extracting, making explosive grade? He didn’t know a thing. By being a President, he appeared to wear the stature. He relied on atomic energy to gain additional stature,”

    Hats off- we have still people bold enough to talk about the top political brass in India.
    Jai Ho!

  34. Janasamanya Says:

    I am a layman and I don’t know any of the technicalities of the whole issue. But I can certainly smell something fishy – rotten fishy. What these gentlemen, Santhanam and Co. were doing all these days – sorry YEARS? Hiding in some caves? How come they are all pouncing upon Dr. Kalam all of a sudden and in tandem, one after the another, one by one? Is there a sinister campaign, deep conspiracy behind the recent happenings in our country? Is it something to do with many attemps of destabilization process of our country? Finally, Santhanam and Co. are not at all clear in what they are saying. What actually they want to say after all?! And whether the media wants to sensationalize the whole issue to increase the prints or it wants to prove something. What about some probings of these Santhanams and Sethnas?

  35. P M Vishwanath Says:

    Please ask these guys to shut up! They are very mediocre scientists who
    are extremely jealous of Abdul Kalam receiving the Bharat Ratna.

  36. avataram Says:

    It is interesting to compare AQ Khan with APJ Kalam. One ruined his international reputation by stealing nuclear secrets, proliferating nuclear weapons etc, but made his country more secure from an external nuclear threat. The other built up his international reputation by trying to do everything at home, but made his country less secure by hyping up failed nuclear tests and failed missiles.

    Who is the real patriot here?

  37. Yella OK Says:

    Dear Aravind – Whoever said that there is anything sacrosanct about Kalam? There are just people who like him, but there is no heroworship of the tamil moviedom kind.

    Assuming he is as worthless as you have mentioned him to be, you would have been a genius had you “called his bluff” when he was appointed president. Now you are just a crude opportunist – making hay (“an article in churumuri”) while the sun shines (“when people like Home Sethna, who have some credibility to talk about him, talk about him”).

  38. RnS Says:

    While it is some extent true that Kalam is hyped in the media, this article sounds more like a spoilt teen’s rant than any piece of meaningful writing. I am no fan of Kalam, and I find some of his portrayals nauseating. But I must point out two shockingly disgusting points in this article.

    First, anyone who equates the failure of a scientific project with an inability of its leadership without going into details, like in this case, should be debarred from writing about Science or scientists. Research and Development, especially in a country like ours, do not work like mass-manufacturing plants as the author seems to imagine.

    Second, the author invokes the opinion of ‘Princeton scholar’ M.V.Ramana. The fact that the apparent superiority of Princeton in the matter is underlined in the fact that it is also present in the tags. I am from an Ivy-league university, and I see no reason why being from ‘Princeton scholar’ M.V.Ramana’s any more trustworthy than any other M.V.Ramana’s opinion. It is ironic that in an article decrying hero-worship and ass-licking, the author himself cannot resist highlighting Princeton.

  39. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Dear All,

    Most of the detractors of APJK here are shameless hypocrites! Even allowing for the fact that he was a mediocre scientist and such like, what are the ‘Nobel’ winning feats of his detractors?!! Please enlighten us. Sure I have criticized APJK for his ‘Tamil immersion’ in some of earlier posts but I never would doubt his courage on issues of National importance.

    Sure most of us know that thermonulclear test is only a test. Countries like US and China and Russia conducted thousands of these tests to get their bombs right. May be India should do that but being a ‘timid nation’ we are more given to bravado and low-cunning in running down a President like APJK in this matter. Wake up please and smell the kaapi. What is wrong with us? Why are we behaving like a Jaswant Singh-Arun shourie combo on Nuclear issues? WHY!!!!!!!

    Simpletonji, ask yourself the same questions you posed here as to how the ‘three-pot’ wonder or ‘mooru-madike’ Prathibha Patil is an improvement over APJK? Come on let us know. IMHO she is a singular disgrace and permament blot on Indian image landscape.

  40. Hiker Says:

    Yella OK,

    Rightly said. Same applies to DP Satish.

  41. Arun Says:

    Personal attacks point to a larger agenda. Most likely it is linked to CTBT.
    K Subramanyam’s op-ed puts the lid on the controversy (for) now:


  42. Speare Says:

    Kalam: a funny poet who had a funny haircut.

  43. mysore peshva Says:

    *Doddi Buddi*

    Well said (particularly your last paragraph).

  44. B. S. Sridhar Says:

    Kalam is a classic example of Peter Principle that stated: In any organization, a person raises to the level of his incompetence. Often techies and scientists claim that that their technical knowledge qualifies them to manage an organization. Clearly, that is not he case. The ability, skills and attitude needed of a leader/manager are quite different than the one expected of a scientist or a techie.

    To the extent that scientists are challenging the technical knowledge of Kalam, I believe they may very well be right. However, Kalam, being ambitious, has always ingratiated with the powerful (networking skills) to head the ISRo and later the country – a testament to his political skills. All CEOs do need political skills. There technical knowledge does not serve them well in their capacity as CEOs.

    Of course, it for the media to cross-check data, and unearth the rationale to determine whether the decision to conduct nuclear test was political, and whether the claims of success were well-founded or not. So our judgment should focus not so much on Kalam’s technical knowledge as much as whether he kowtowed the ruling party to keep his own prestige.

    Finally, media has been extremely lax in its standard in publishing Kalam’s poetry. His literary convulsions when MS Subbalakshmi died was so horrible. Why, I could not have published that quality of poetry in my school magazine, forget about being published in every newspaper outlet in the country.

  45. Truth matters Says:

    Never did correct the public impression, created assiduously by some of his followers, that he had a PhD. Politicians like Jayalalitha can call themselves Dr., but scientists cannot. The physiotherapists have been fighting for years to get the tag.

    As one of the posters here have pointed out, Kalam was a good task force man. Some sort of a jumped up mestri. Nothing more. He always talks about India becoming a military super power. We all want India to become a super power. But in education, health and well being of its citizens. But for Kalam, the poster child of India’s military-industrial complex, inequity and injustice in our society was not important.

    And as for nuclear physics, Kalam knows about it as much as I, who studied economics and went into journalism, do. Santhanam, Sethna, P K Iyengar and other nuclear physicists worked all their lives to make India a nuclear power and they should know what they are talking. BTW, Santhanam’s remark was not off the cuff or a calculated one, but was in reply to a pin-down question in an interview. I have had the honour of knowing Santhanam, and one thing about man stands out. His unimpeachable integrity. The man will tell you the truth if he asks for it. To answer the question why he kept quiet all the while: Because none in the the stupid Indian media ever thought of asking the simple question: What as the yield at Pokharan II. The Indian media is semi-literate, self-absorbed and proudly flaunts its illiteracy and idiocy.

    A patriot to the core, Santhanam is that rare intellectual who is an as much of an authority on Karnatic music, the Vedas and Upanishads, and Central Asia as he is on nuclear physics. As a nuclear scientist, he was deputed to the RAW as Deputy Director to track Pakistan’s nuclear programme. After listening 24/7 to coded and extremely guarded signal traffic of Pakistan army and nuclear establishment, he and his team of RAW operatives stumbled upon the repeated mention of the French company, Saint-Gobain (yes, the same Saint-Gobain which makes glass for our homes and our commercial establishments) which also makes nuclear equipment such as reprocessing facility. That was the first information breakthrough confirming Pakistan was on its way to weaponising. Santhanam’s official biography, of course omits his stint in RAW.

    Aware of the respect among nuclear scientists that Santhanam commanded, Kalam, when he retired, sought and got an extension as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, in order to block Santhanam’s path to that post. Extensions in office is Kalam’s fantasy. Till it was clear to him that he would not get a second term to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the man refused to tell the media whether he was in the running.

    As President, Kalam was circus item. He was not constitutional colossus that he should have been. Grateful to the NDA government for having made him President, he was careful enough not take a stand on the Gujarat massacre of Muslims. He would visit Gujarat but did not have the courage to visit the relief camps where the victims were living like sardine in cans.

    Some intellectual this! And BTW, his knowledge of Karnatic music which he flaunts in order to widen his acceptability in the Indian mainstream does not go beyond “Endaro Mahanubhavulu”. Ask him about Swati Tirunal, Thyagaraja or Annamayya, and he would probably ask you to repeat it thrice.

    The man is a phoney, if there was one. That he was President of India is not surprise, because any mediocrity (witness Madame Pratibha Patil or Giani Zail Singh) can enter Rashtrapati Bhavan, but that he became the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India given his shallow scientific credentials, for me that takes the yellow cake and fakery too.

  46. Curry Hurry Says:

    A sugar thief is annointed as the Commander in chief by our lady of supreme sacrifice and for some strange reason they are nitpicking on the credentials of the predecessor. Did the incident that necessitated the sacrifice lead to this vengeful “mitadoongi” repercussions now ?

  47. Yella OK Says:

    I guess my earlier comment should apply even more to “truth matters”, a journalist. The world is full of crudely opportunistic journalists.

  48. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Truth Matters,

    You are good, just the reactions you invoke in people who want to think with the herd, is worth it! Keep writing.

  49. rajachandra Says:

    Truth Matters:
    …Santhanam’s official biography, of course omits his stint in RAW….

    What is the point in flaunting something which Mr. Santhanam himself does not want to or is prohibited to state. Unless if it is Mr. Santhanam himself who is in the garb of Truth Matters !

    It is disgusting to read the unwarranted but visceral dislike of Dr Kalam and his meteoric rise from humble unpretentious beginning at VSSC to Rashtrapathi Bhavan. It is uncharitable to say the least.

    If Truth really matters, then i expect these anonymous intellectuals to be decent enough to come out of the veil !

  50. Gaby Says:

    Truth Matters- am asking only out of curiosity- wouldnt dare invoke the sarcasm of AG for going with the herd- I’ve heard APJ used to play the veena- did he play only the one Thayagaraja keerthane you mention?

    Your description of Mr Santhanam ( whom unfortunately I had ever HEARD of ) sound like the description of APJ by his admires- a man of intergity and then redundant stuff like his skills in matters musical and Vedic- well I was just asking!!!

  51. krishna Says:

    Just to question Kalams credentials because he stood by the official version of success in the pokhran tests seems rather stupid by any standards including junior kg and senior kg. It makes our scientific community look like a group of asses if they had let a simple man raise to the levels he did. We need to give him more than his dues. If you were uninspired by his talks and views please watch the crappy soaps the idiot box has to offer and read who did whom magazines.

  52. Dr N K Srinivasan Says:

    Both Dr Kalam and Shri K Santhanam [he does not have Ph D yet]are sincere,hard working scientists who have contributed considerably for the country under very primitive conditions since 1960’s….I have worked with both of them…the current issue is discussing matters of national importance and secrecy, 11 years after the event…Why did Shri Santhanam [Santy] chose to speak about it now? Why did he not raise it privately with Def secry,def minister and PM after taking appointments with them all these years?..Further while he was the director of IDSA, he could have written about it with professional ethics……Why bring in Ashok Parthasarathy and other old timers [K Subramanyam] who know very little about nuclear weapons?
    I feel that shri Santhanam has transgressed the limit of propriety in defence matters for which he should be questioned whatever may be the veracity of his statements.

  53. Anonymous Guy Says:

    “I feel that shri Santhanam has transgressed the limit of propriety in defence matters for which he should be questioned whatever may be the veracity of his statements.”

    Funny statement coming from a scientist.

  54. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Please do not destroy our pretensions. We must go on claiming that ours is a land favoured by the gods, that we are going to be the next superpower in the world, our judges and presidents are elected for their intellectual acumen.

  55. rajachandra Says:

    Just the other day, i happened to meet my old college day friends. According to a friend who is still working in a Defense undertaking,
    Mr. Santhanam is known to go bonkers after he had one too many and no one takes him seriously !! It is our media, ever hungry to give breaking news, who are creating a nuisance and betraying any sense of propriety & responsibility while discussing matters of national importance and secrecy (i agree with Dr.NKS in this regard)

  56. Dr N K Srinivasan Says:

    Dr Kalam is not a nuclear scientist, but an aeronautics engineer ,with experience in missiles.He was asked to organize the Pokhran II because of his eminence and sincerity, by PM Vajpayee at that time.Kalam was heading DRDO as DG and SA scientific advisor to RM or defence Minister.Further you need interfacing with Army for the site at Pokhran for which DRDO is better equipped.Dr Kalam in turn assigned the task of test site preparation to Mr Santhanam.Thus Santhanam became test site prep director..that is all..the nuclear part was mainly done by Dr R Chidambaram who met with Kalam regularly. Dr Kalam made statements only as formal head of the whole program and not in his individual capacity as a nuclear scientist at all.He was entirely voicing what Dr Chidambaram and Dr Kakaodkar [Dir BARC] told him.It is obvious that Santhanam could have given his opinion about the yield and lack of crater at that time to Dr Kalam and the defence minister/PM.
    The question of doing further tests or signing CTBT are other issues,but related to yield of TN devices and should be discussed with a wider group.If Brajesh Mishra ,the NSA at that time,took a voice vote and decided on the future tests,Santhanam could have raised objection then itself…..Why now after 11 years…have we not compromised the security of the nation for the past 11 years? Santhanam’s posture now is untenable. The question of further tests is an issue which the present govt can address itself,taking perhaps ,the opinions of opposition parties too. What Brajesh Mishra did need not be taken as final word on this…

  57. renny edwin Says:

    i totally agree with you… he is too overrated. how is he any better than those senior scientists and engineers in drdo…? or is he a classical poet..what exactly are we raving about ? hes nothing more than a good scientist or a good orator..please dont drag his name along with mahatma or even Verghese Kurien (white revolution)

  58. ronnie Says:

    From the humble sea sands of Rameshwaram to the presidential chair of our country APJ is the man a child can look up to. APJ is the man a country look up to..
    his path was always tough, it was about sweat tears and agony, he climbed those paths to reach the top of mountain, not dropped in a helicopter like many others.
    we don’t care if he has a phd, or a doctorate. Always its about the path. If that path have given to mr.ARVIND SWAMINATHAN, then you will collapse and die you distressed soul.
    Some men cant distinguish between the right and wrong they are just born like that and all they can do is come up with stupidity like this.

  59. Kinjalk Singh Says:

    For the less read ones, Rahul Gandhi is in someway descendant to Mahtma Gandhi reflected further in his gandhi’ian lifestyle. And for the well read ones Apj kalam is a great nuclear scientist like Einsteen, reflected further in his einsteen’ian hairstyle. Its less about Rahul ji or APJ jI, but more of ‘ nation thirsty of heroes’ randomly relating here and there to quench their ‘thirst’. A well conveyed article, though.

  60. Dr. Singh Says:

    Mr. Swaminathan, its not abt a hero thirsty nation, its about getting inspired by hero like qualities of certain decidedly abv average people… It could have been You too…had there been some humility to respect sincerity and appreciate where its due..but we do need that critical eye too..So carry on with that job…next it could be Mahatma Gandhi or Lord Rama also…we do always need a certain section of people who can criticize…so that we are able to see more clearly and distinguish the graceful from the unreasonably shallow. This time blind hero worship certainly looks to be better than unjustified criticis, with due regards

  61. jamon Mc graw Says:

    He is BSc physics+ Btech+ MTech(not sure). thats not a big deal.
    Mathematical physics in BSc is not that good.and BTech maths is simply cookbook type applied maths.I think for ugly people, things come easy in life.They always got a psychological advantage in an interview.We all know interview is a non effective and useless method to judge candidates.Anyways, we are living in world where popstars, MBA and stupid ,order obeying non thinking engineers running DCS are ideals.In todays world,higher education and academia are seen with disgust.

  62. SUSHIL DAYAL Says:

    Abdul is very good at promoting himself in a subtle way. A very good marketing man and subtle self promotion is his forte. The media should not be blamed – it just gets carried away [it respectfully calls a criminal Dawood Ibrahim ‘the underworld don’]. The urban middle class is quite impressed with Abdul, for no good reasons, and yet this kind of thing happens. It would be most inappropriate if he becomes president again.

  63. driftertribe Says:

    the news came ages ago in TOI saying that Kalam was not a scientist and i agree with the post

  64. adithyahk Says:

    The number of mercy please cleared by our last three Presidents. K R Narayanan zero
    Dr A P J Abdul Kalam only two out of 25 mercy petitions
    Mrs P Patil cleared 39 out of 55 petitions granting clemency to most of them.
    Thank god Dr Kalam turned down his possible second term. May be because he knew that deciding on mercy petitions is not anything like jumping the gun by major general prithviraj.

  65. A ABILASH Says:

    May be to some extent Kalam may not fit to be called a true great scientist of society since it involves commendable ‘novel’ contribution to the science(through genuine research publications), but by nature he is one of the best deserving persons of India to get such a fame..

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