Why India won't see another Kalam in politics any time soon

His nomination to the post of president of India changed Indian politics for good.

 |  3-minute read |   27-07-2016
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"Vajpayeeji, I consider this to be a very important mission and I would like to be an all-party candidate."

When scientist APJ Abdul Kalam put forth this condition before then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he was well aware that if things could work out in favour of either PC Alexander or vice president Krishna Kant, one of them would have been the presidential nominee.

Kalam wanted the consensus on his nomination because the political arena was never at ease with apolitical and independent minds when it came to appointments to the highest positions in the country (it still isn't). Kalam was an academician and he never wished for a place for himself in politics.

Kalam's academic excellence was unmatched but the fact remains that his nomination to the post of president of India changed Indian politics for good. 

The political landscape was always on the edge when Kalam served as India's president as he was not ideologically aligned to any political party.

This explains why the entire political class ensured that Kalam’s case did not set a precedent for appointments to other high positions in government - his actions could neither be predicted, nor controlled.

Also read - Kalam was no great man: Don't let news of death confuse you

Indian politics is not only deeply dynastic, but despite its partisan loyalties, there is a strong self-preserving core to it.

The posts of prime minister, president and chief minister are reserved for seasoned politicians with deep political connections.

kalam-embed_072716070534.jpg Kalam's stature was only accentuated during his time as the president of the country. 

Over the past six decades, every political party has consciously and strictly followed this unwritten pact, and all those who have reached the country's highest political positions have had a long political past.

Also read: 15 best quotes by APJ Abdul Kalam

By these standards, in spite of all his scientific achievements, Kalam could at the most have been a governor or an ambassador. His ascendance represented the union of a thousand coincidences together.

The hesitation to make Kalam the president was overcome because Vajpayee was the prime minister, who smartly overruled Delhi's political class of that time.

If Vajpayee had not made Kalam's election a prestige issue for himself, the NDA would have reached an agreement on some other political candidate.

Also read: What Kalam left behind, apart from his legacy

In 1998, Kalam rejected an offer of a ministerial position in the Vajpayee government.

He had also started preparing for his post-retirement life at Anna University as a teacher.

Certainly, he became the country's first citizen without kowtowing to the political class.

Even the NDA could not estimate the extent of his popularity or that he would become a "rock star" president.

The reason for Kalam's popularity did not entirely lie in his successful scientific career. The Indian youth and middle class embraced him for being a strictly no-nonsense, apolitical technocrat. But his stature was only accentuated during his time as the president of the country.

His spectacular gallop to India's supreme chair gave Indians hope that even a non-political person could ascend the president's post on merit, overrunning political fortification.

The political class, though, did not accept his rise.

By the time Kalam became president and rose to the pinnacle of his popularity, Vajpayee was in his third term as the prime minister.

After the NDA government was voted out in the 2004 general elections, Kalam spent the rest of his tenure with the UPA, which was evidently uncomfortable with the glow of the "people's president".

At that time, Delhi's political grapevine was abuzz with stories of how the UPA had "clipped Kalam's wings". However, limiting a popular president to the lecture-seminar circuit was not fair to his capabilities.

Kalam's independent spirit shocked the country's old school politics. It is highly unlikely that India's leaders will ever muster the courage to put someone like Kalam on top of the political pyramid of power anytime soon.


Anshuman Tiwari Anshuman Tiwari @anshuman1tiwari

Editor, economic analyst, columnist, author

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