Friday, July 27, 2007

Claim to fame of APJ?

Amidst this Pratibha Patil bashing, I read this piece of news where her predecessor, APJ Abdul Kalam, asked him to be referred as Professor, not Ex-President and was wholeheartedly applauded. Please not be mistaken, I am equally disgraced by, as other conscientious citizens, to see a complete stranger (Yes, I do follow Indian politics pretty well, and no, I have never heard of her before) getting to occupy the highest constitutional post in our country. However, I am slightly surprised by the attention and reverence "Prof. Kalam" is receiving - so I tried to dig a little bit deeper. As for his academic career, he specialized in Aeronautical Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology - which basically tells me that he was an engineer.

Then, Dr. Kalam made significant contribution as Project Director to develop India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully injected the Rohini satellite in the near earth orbit in July 1980 and made India an exclusive member of Space Club. He was responsible for the evolution of ISRO's launch vehicle programme, particularly the PSLV configuration. After working for two decades in ISRO and mastering launch vehicle technologies, Dr. Kalam took up the responsibility of developing Indigenous Guided Missiles at Defence Research and Development Organisation as the Chief Executive of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). He was responsible for the development and operationalisation of AGNI and PRITHVI Missiles and for building indigenous capability in critical technologies through networking of multiple institutions. Anyone who knows a bit about big scientific or engineering projects, would tell you that individual achievements are minimum in these endeavours. It cant be "he" who actually "built" anything - he was most probably in the supervising group. Good job, Mr. Kalam - but I don't see what is so special in these.

And I also take issues with why he would be referred as "Dr. Kalam" then. Because, apparently Dr. Kalam is one of the most distinguished scientists of India with the unique honour of receiving honorary doctorates from 30 universities and institutions. Now someone please tell me why getting honorary doctorate from a zillion places would make one a "distinguished scientist". Should not it be other way around? Aerospace engineering is not some exotic subject, nor I can see him doing any ground breaking scientific work, that he deserves an honorary doctorate, and then being famous because of that. His teaching experiences are minimal too, and so he being recruited as professor directly at Anna University is somewhat odd too.

Rest of his achievements before becoming the president? He was the Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister and Secretary, Department of Defence Research & Development from July 1992 to December 1999. During this period he led to the weaponisation of strategic missile systems and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in collaboration with Department of Atomic Energy, which made India a nuclear weapon State. He also gave thrust to self-reliance in defence systems by progressing multiple development tasks and mission projects such as Light Combat Aircraft.s Chairman of Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and as an eminent scientist, he led the country with the help of 500 experts to arrive at Technology Vision 2020 giving a road map for transforming India from the present developing status to a developed nation. Dr. Kalam has served as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, in the rank of Cabinet Minister, from November 1999 to November 2001 and was responsible for evolving policies, strategies and missions for many development applications. Dr. Kalam was also the Chairman, Ex-officio, of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SAC-C) and piloted India Millennium Mission 2020.
If ones notices, all of them are administrative positions, mostly political appointment. I simply do not see how and when he becomes an eminent scientist. It seems like he is more an example of a person being at the right time at right place than the icon he is made out to be.

(All of the facts are quoted from the the Abdul Kalam official page.)

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