A P J Abdul Kalam takes a walk at the Mughal Garden at the Presidential Palace premises on the eve of his demitting office in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, July 24, 2007. -- AP Photo/Saurabh Das (Source)
Corridors of power don't inspire anyone; but the elevation of a rocket scientist -- Abdul Kalam -- to the position of India's Head of State in 2002 was an exception. The question on everyone's lips then was: isn't he a misfit? But the majority public opinion was people like Kalam must enter public administration and infuse the much-needed brain power.
Kalam's hairstyle; his sprightly gait, his pedagogical articulation; the true patriotism he espoused; his intellectual vision; his bountiful affection towards and encouragement of children -- no person brought to the Rashtrapti Bhavan in the recent past. I don't think we had such a President since Dr S Radhakrishnan. We had a President who became a youth icon, who inspired the nation's working class, intellectuals and students alike.
India's Constitution doesn't envisage any constructive role for the President. He is a counsellor for the government and the lawmakers, and for the nation at large. And, it's a role that Dr Abdul Kalam played remarkably well. But, how much of his counsel and suggestions have been taken in the right spirit and practised is, sadly, a moot point.
As Kalam stepped out of the Rashtrapati Bhavan today, he must have surely carried with him a definitive pride and conviction that he conducted himself as the Head of State with elan, grace and poise, that more than anything inspired and ignited a million minds in India. All our admiration for this gem of a man will mean just a cypher if we do not imbibe and assimilate in our consciousness and practise the tenets he believed in and worked for.
Thank you, Dr Abdul Kalam! You will be remembered by generations to come!
New Indian President Pratibha Patil waves after inspecting a ceremonial Guard of Honor at the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday July 25, 2007. Patil, 72, was sworn in Wednesday. -- AP Photo (Source)
The excitement this day evoked five years back was evidently missing today. Then, reams and reams of paper were published and many hours of airtime spent on eulogising the achievements of Dr Kalam. But none in the case of Patil today. Not without reason.Kalam has set a tall order for his successor Pratibha Patil to emulate. Let us be fair to the new President. Let us wait and see if she has some surprise up her sleeve. After all, she has a rich legacy to live up to.
At the same time, let us not be overawed by the tokenism of "the first woman President of India". It means nothing. We have had for decades women occupying positions of power, no less than that of the Prime Minister -- Indira Gandhi became India's first woman Prime Minister in 1966. Women in India have risen to stellar positions. But that has in no way reflected on the position of the ordinary woman or that of a girl. Reasons are many and they have been endlessly debated. Surely we can discuss again.
Since Pratibha Patil will be remembered, if not for anything, for being the India's first woman President, she has one clear agenda before her. She must use the influence of her high-power office -- not to bring in more laws in favour of women but -- to radically change the way our society looks at women, which no law can bring about.
Just as Kalam taught many of us to dream and aim for lofty goals, Patil can lead the society in extending a helping hand to countless deprived and harassed girls and women -- mainly in villages and small towns -- so that they can step out into a progressive world. Hopefully she will -- not just raise her voice but -- act against the persecution of women -- in cities, in towns and in villages -- merely because of her sex. Let us hope she will be a Kalam in your own way!Low expectations can sometimes be a boon. Hopefully, it is so in the case of President Pratibha Devisingh Patil.