By Jamuna Rangachari April 2008 The word ‘ex-president’ will never be used for Dr A P J Abdul kalam. he has already made a place for himself in indian minds and souls. a reformist, a visionary, an educationist, Dr Kalam remains, first and foremost, an inspiration When I view the spartan lobby filled with many hoping to get his support for the causes they were involved in, I realise that the term ‘ex’ will never really be applicable to him. For he has always worn his mantle lightly, redefining the definition of power and authority while being focussed on his dream and plan for the nation’s future, firmly entrenched in India’s consciousness as a man of vision. “Please make yourself comfortable,” President Kalam says before asking which language I would prefer to converse in – English or Tamil, our common mother tongue. We end up using both languages, conversing without even a trace of formality. I begin to understand why everyone, across the world, has always felt absolutely comfortable with him. Excerpts from an interview: We all look up to you as a visionary. What is your vision for India in the 21st century? My vision really is to take up all the areas that need to be addressed. Let me begin with competitiveness. India is advancing in a number of areas with technological innovations. Indian industry must develop quality products in a timely and cost-effective manner in order to become globally competitive and penetrate the global market. As of now, most of the industries are located in urban areas, whereas the 700 million people living in rural areas too can become a great human resource. The small-scale industrialist should become a CEO and provide urban amenities there. They should establish the market, run schools, maintain hospitals and, above all, set up business enterprises. These should generate large employment and produce best products using the core competence of the village for supply to national and international market. Such dispersion will also be useful to the industry in terms of reduction in cost of manufacture due to availability of raw material at lower overheads and transportation cost. Another issue is governance. Developed nations are gauged by the quality of service the citizens get from the government, and from the corporates with which they do business. One mechanism by which we can continuously increase the quality of service is through feedback, where the web as a medium can be very useful. This should be done by everyone without fear or bias. This feedback will enable all service providers to constantly improve the quality of service irrespective of what the service is. We will see a substantial increase in services such as electricity, water, telephone, gas, transportation, education, insurance, banking, law and police. Service providers, whether they are in government or in the private sector, have to take feedback in the right spirit and provide customer satisfaction both in the short-term and in the long-term. This scenario should lead to pride of service and competitiveness. The Right to Information Act is certainly a positive step in this direction. Education is another concern. Education should really be knowledge acquisition, knowledge imparting, knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. As we have immense human resources, we should ensure that every Indian youth has a world-class higher education or world class skill sets. Here again, the internet and educational portals have a great role to play. And finally, the environment. Environment can become clean and upgraded only throughcountrywide active participation of citizens. Spiritual leaders too can play a very important role in persuadingdevotees to enrol in the clean environment movement. This will, of course, also promote the evolution of beautiful minds. Local groups can be formed to demonstrate and teach cleanliness in local residential areas. Welfare associations, NCC cadets, scouts, guides and NSS volunteers can proactively form these groups. Industrialists should follow the prescribed norms for environmental standards in all their institutions, and make buildings friendly to differently challenged people. Ultimately, none of this can be done by the government or a single agency alone. It has to be through collective vision and action. The same set of areas needs to be addressed in the world too, and this will surely lead to world peace and stability. Do you think we are heading in the right direction? Broadly, yes. All we need is that our people, especially the youth, have great confidence in themselves and in the nation. What is the one quality of India that you cherish the most? I think one of our greatest cultural inheritances is the joint family system which still thrives, especially in the rural areas. I was brought up in such a family and I do vouch that this system nurtures the children, teaches them core values and how to live with others. I certainly believe we should do our best to retain this way of life for the sustained happiness of all. In your personal journey, which would you say were the defining moments in making you what you are today? The SLV-3, with the Rohini satellite, of which I was the project director, was launched in 1979, but crashed into the Bay of Bengal five minutes later. This was a great setback. But then, a year later, the SLV-3 was once again launched, and this time it was successful. The first time, the then chairman of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), Professor Satish Dhawan took all the blame for the disaster, and when it was launched successfully, he gave me all the credit. The whole experience was a potent piece of education which will not come from any university: I learnt how to handle both failure and success – not getting totally dejected with failure and not getting unduly excited about success. Who are the people who have inspired you the most? Subramaniam Iyer, my 5th grade maths teacher, Dr Vikram Sarabhai who is considered the father of the Indian space programme, Professor Satish Dhawan and Dr Brahm Prakash of the ISRO have all left an indelible impact on me. What are the personal spiritual practices that are most special to you? I am associated with FUREC (Foundation for Unity of Religionsand Enlightened Citizenship), an organisation where spiritual leaders from all religions have come together on one platform to translate spiritual energy into constructive social action. Periodically FUREC meets at various places and promotes religious unity. FUREC spreads the message of unity and happiness among religions. I am taking lot of interest in that.
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