Born in Tamil Nadu in 1931 to a poor working-class Muslim family, Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam became India’s eleventh president in 2002, the third Muslim to serve as the head of India’s republic. A distinguished prominent scientist and administrator, Abdul Kalam had no political experience prior to his election as president. His unpretentious, low-keyed manner and simple clothing and lifestyle initially raised concerns about his ability to meet the demands of his high office, but he has ably managed the heavy duties of the presidency of India and guided the transition from the Bharatiya Janata Party–led coalition government to the Congress Party–led coalition government following the 2004 general elections. His simplicity has won the respect of visiting dignitaries from around the world.
President Abdul Kalam is one of India’s most distinguished and well-known scientists, though much of his work was as a science and technology administrator, laying the groundwork for the growth of India’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. He studied aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology. Known as the “rocket man of India,” he made significant contributions as project director to develop India’s space rocket program, beginning with the first indigenous satellite launch vehicle (SLV-III), which successfully launched the Rohini satellite into Earth orbit in July 1980, making India a member of the international “space club.” Abdul Kalam was the chief executive for the development of the indigenous guided missile program at the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) of the Indian Ministry of Defence. He was briefly a professor of astronautics at Anna University in Tamil Nadu before his election as president of India.
Abdul Kalam is also credited with the development of the intermediate-range Agni and short-range Prithvi missiles, and for promoting indigenous technologies through the networking of India’s main technology institutions. He was scientific adviser to the minister of defense, and secretary of DRDO of the Ministry of Defence from 1992 to 1999. During this period he supervised the transformation of peacetime space rockets into strategic missile systems and prepared the groundwork for India’s nuclear tests in May 1998, in collaboration with the Indian Department of Atomic Energy, which made India a nuclear weapons state. He vigorously promoted self-reliance in several other defense fields, including the development of India’s light combat aircraft.
President Abdul Kalam is the author of four inspirational books that encourage Indian youth to aspire to higher achievements and the eradication of poverty in India. These are Wings of Fire; India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium; My Journey; and Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power within India. These books have been translated into many Indian languages. He has also written Tamil poetry. A strict self-disciplinarian, he is a vegetarian, abstains from alcohol, and is unmarried. He was awarded Bharat Ratna in 2007 highest Indian Civilian Award. Kalam collapsed and died from an apparent cardiac arrest on 27th july 2015, while delivering a lecture at the Indian institute of Management, Shillong. National level dignitaries attended the funeral held at his home town Rameswaram, where he was buried with full state honours.