I should’ve written this post earlier, given that I was one of those who was deeply inspired by his vision; but I remember him more at this time, now that he is gone.
When you talk to any Indian and ask them about Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, not a single Indian soul will trash talk about him. Why ? It was who he was. He rose above the bounds of the system itself, pushed himself to the farthest limits to achieve something he believed in.
Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam was the 11th president of India from the period of 2002-2007. He passed away on the 27th of July, 2015 during a lecture he was giving to the students in IIM-Shillong. As a tribute to the great personality, I’m going to talk to you all about the ideas that he represented, believed in, and endorsed so freely that his sole purpose was to develop the country.
These ideas that he represented can be applied to any nation in the world.
1. He never really retired from his work, while most of us are looking forward to it.
After serving as president of India for a period of 5 years, he moved out of his office in Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Three months after moving out, he continued his work. He believed academia and research were the prime sources for development and he became a visiting faculty in the Indian Institute of Management – Shillong, Ahmedabad and Indore; he became the professor of Aerospace engineering at Anna University, the chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (Thiruvananthapuram). He even launched the ‘What can I give’ movement among the youth which primarily focused on defeating corruption.
He is testament to dedicating his life to what he believed in. He was adamant enough to work towards the country’s development via education, research, agriculture, economic reforms, defense, and he made sure he worked towards that goal every single day. During his time in the office, he only took two days as official holidays; one was due to his father’s demise, and one was due to his mother’s demise. When he died, he was giving a lecture in the Indian Institute of Management – Shillong. Few of us leave the world doing what we love, and I am glad he was one of them.
2. Human Resource – The best form of resource that we have.
He believed that with so many people in this country, and with the highest population of youth (54% of the total population), we have ample resources to grow into a super power. He said that if the youth of the nation discovered their value and became confident enough, then we could tackle most problems effortlessly. Though the confidence levels were unnoticeable these past years, we are seeing a significant rise in that level now.
Youth, and confidence in them is the key to a nation’s development. Nurturing ideas in them, bringing about a vision in them directly contributes to the growth of the country.
3. His ideas about the economy –
One of the reasons why I loved this man was because even before entrepreneurship became cool, he endorsed it. He asked that the syllabus in every education system be modified to accommodate at-least 6 months of material about venture capital and entrepreneurship so that students will have that confidence to go to venture capitalists themselves and start businesses.
He said that when 3 million students graduate from 300 universities, the hope is that most of them become employment generators, and not employment seekers. It is important for entrepreneurship to thrive in a country which needs economic development right now, more than ever.
“Students must start their own enterprises; they must have the confidence to go to venture capitalists, or banks and take loans and start their own ventures.” he said.
4. Rural development is more important than you think.
In a country where there are more than 6000 villages, it is our duty to aid them so that they catch up with the modern era of technology, and make them be open minded to the reforms of the present day in all aspects.
Tele-education was something he was hoping to achieve in villages. Funny, that the thought never even crossed my mind when there’s the Internet I’m connected to right now.
5. Defense and the economy is a strong couple.
Dr Kalam’s belief in the economic aspects of development ignited a lot of minds. The liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 paved the way for the nation’s growth. Reduction of import taxes, expanding the role of foreign investment, removing unnecessary economic barriers for trade was the key factor to development.
But all this is not effective enough without nuclear independence, he said. “Power respects power” he said. It was our duty to become a nation who showed power via nuclear growth. Both these factors together make us powerful. When other powers respect us because of this power, there is peace. And peace results in development.
6. Respect lies always in the way you address others.
One thing I noticed in a lot of interviews and speeches that Dr. Kalam gave, was that he had a childlike simplicity in delivering the information he wanted to convey. His English was not that exceptional, nor was his grammar perfect; that did not stop him from speaking in English anyway. The information that he conveyed, and the manner in which he conveyed it made up for all the English language flaws that I mentioned earlier.
He was asked to comment on the corruption in the government which still thrived even during his time as president. Instead of saying ill things about the government and its officials, he gave the interviewer an anecdote, telling him that the change must be within the citizens themselves. He told the interviewer how he, as a citizen can contribute towards a corruption-free country. “Instead of saying what can the government do to reduce corruption, ask this instead – What can I do?” he said during the interview.
7. Why will conflicts exist if all nations work together towards development ?
If various nations recognize their core competencies, and work together by complementing each other, then not only will this aid the two-three nations at work, but will also aid all other nations too.
When Dr. Kalam, during his presidency addressed the Pan African parliament among 53 nations in Johannesberg, he proposed an idea to merge the core competencies of India and Africa, invest around $150m and connect all 53 nations via tele-medicine, tele-education and e-governance. After about 4 years, 40 nations were connected.
During a collaboration with Russia, both countries invested a lot of money, adding up to around $300m. This was done after recognizing the core competencies of both nations. They were building a system the world hadn’t seen before. As a result, that investment is now a business worth $10b. So, instead of working on war strategies and political maneuvers, nations could focus on development instead.
8. Handle both success and failure gracefully.
Dr. Kalam was probably the most humble person who people knew. All the success that he tasted did not let him fly high; he managed to stay firm on the ground. He could handle success like no other person, but what defined him was that he realized that he should handle failure just as gracefully.
The flight of SLV-3 in the early 1970s, after it ended up in the Bay of Bengal, instead of space brought a new level of shock to Dr. Kalam, who was then the project lead. The chairman of ISRO- Prof. Satish Dhavan took the blame himself, saving Kalam from all the insult and baggage at the time. Kalam always forced his team to learn from that failed attempt, which eventually resulted in a successful launch the following year.
9. True optimism is a rare boon.
Dr. Kalam dreams of an ideal India. He says, “Imagine the country which is educated, healthy, safe for women and children everywhere, and corruption-free.” and he doesn’t say a word after; he just lets us imagine it.
When asked about how he could manage such a large nation; a nation which is so huge and so chaotic, he stopped the interviewer and said, “No, it isn’t a bad thing. Every order comes out of chaos.”
His vision of a developed India by 2020 was optimistic in itself. But the fact that he was working every single day towards it makes me believe that it is practical. He wasn’t married and didn’t have have kids. Instead, he focused his efforts on making this nation prosperous everyday.
He loved kids more than anything. He visited more educational institutions than any other place to deliver lectures based on igniting their minds. Such optimism is contagious.
10. His definition of a leader –
Dr. Kalam identifies a leader who bears the following traits –
- Every leader must have a vision, regardless of its magnitude.
- Must be ready to venture into the unknown.
- Must know how to manage both success and failure. ( he gives the example of his SLV-3 failure )
- Must have courage to take decisions.
- Must have the ability to manage people and his actions. Every decision must be transparent to his subordinates.
- Must be in touch with people at all times. (he says this with respect to his presidency)
He might be gone, but his ideas are with us. There was not one single person who wasn’t affected deeply by his demise. Although it wasn’t his intention, he managed to inspire a whole generation of people. His work life probably got the best of him and as a result, we got the best of him too. He is still known as the people’s president, and that is for various reasons I described above. He represented these ideas, and he has passed the baton to us to fulfill his dream. If we don’t achieve it, we’ll at-least fall somewhere close to it.
“Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.” – Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.