Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India, popularly known as a ‘missile man’ passed away on Monday, after a cardiac arrest, in Shillong, North East India. He was 83. It was alleged by activists that Kalam’s nomination in 2002 by the then BJP-led NDA, was an attempt to whitewash BJP’s alleged role in the Gujarat violence which claimed over 2000 lives with several still missing. BJP ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni described it as “an attempt to project BJP’s secularism in the aftermath of Gujarat violence.” Here is a response from feminist activist Jayashree Velankar about the tributes pouring in for a man who played a big role in the nuclearisation of the country.
This was written to share my frustrations over the tributes pouring in from all quarters for Dr. APJ Kalam. I am disturbed by some of the tributes paid by some within ‘our’ circles of friends and fellow travelers.
There is no doubt Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was an humble man, came from a very poor family, struggled against many odds, was opposed to death penalty but the fact remains that he was a Missile Man. Kalam chose to build weapons of mass destruction. I can’t call him “People’s President” and I am not sorry I can’t pay tributes to him.
To all those, especially amongst ‘us’ – the social activists, who have said he was ‘visionary’, ‘statesman’, ‘rushitulya’ (like a Sage), ‘apolitical’ my earnest plea is to ponder over these few things:
1) Rajdeep Sardesai, in my opinion, was the first journalist to use the adjective “People’s President” for Kalam. The rationale was, unlike other presidents who kept a safe distance from people in the name of protocol, Kalam mingled with people freely and answered emails by common people, especially young people and school children. All these were welcome gestures but do they suffice for us to call him People’s President – somebody who excelled in building weapons that would kill tens of thousands of ‘people’?
Make no mistake here. Nuclear weapons will make no distinction between people from Pakistan and India. They would kill thousands, if not more on both sides of the border
2) As my comrade in peace movement, Sukla Sen pointed out, Kalam played a big role in India’s nuclearisation that has had disastrous consequences like Pakistan going nuclear within a fort night of India doing so, Kargil war, hijacking of IA plane in December 1999, Parliament attack in New Delhi in 2001 to name a few. Only hawks can think this to be ‘visionary’. Can we?
3) Yes, he opposed death penalty but again isn’t it a bitter irony? By building missiles, in reality, he signed death warrants for thousands.
4) This ‘great statesman’ kept mum when George Fernandes and others in NDA government sacked Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in a most humiliating manner when Bhagwat exposed huge scams and Fernandes’s connections with illegal arms trade ( I haven’t found the time to cross check this part so I will stand corrected)
5) Nirmalaji Deshpande, well known Gandhian and a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons was chosen by Congress party to be the next President of India. (I think NDTV had made an announcement to this effect) but then a doubt was raised – will she allow use of nuclear weapons in case a war breaks out with Pakistan and her name was dropped like a hot potato. All those who argue that someone like APJ – a Muslim getting the highest office is a sign of maturity of Indian democracy, please rethink. His being Muslim was overlooked only because he was a Missile Man. In the eyes of jingoists, Nirmalaji lacked phallus on both accounts – being a woman and by opposing nuclear weapons. (Eventually Pratibha Patil was chosen as his successor.)
Traditional protocol demands one to be not critical of a person who is no more. But as a feminist peacenik, my conscience demands that I bring these facets to the fore.