Dr APJ Abdul Kalam: The Death Of A Dreamer, Well Before His Dreams Became Nightmares To Millions
By VT Padmanabhan
29 July, 2015
Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam, the missile man of India, the father of Indian atom bomb and the ex-president of India died at a young age after an illustrious working life of over six decades. The mainstream media will celeberate him with cover stories and opinion pages for at least a fortnight. For Peace and Disarmament people, Kalam was just another government scientist, who organized the manufacture and testing of India's bomb-missile system. For the downwinders of the nuclear power plants, especially at Kudnkulam, located only a few kilometers from his birthplace- Rameswaram, he is the judge who drafted the final verdict against them. The same with the proposed India-based Neutrino Observatory under the Idukki-Theni mountains in Western Ghat, which could have been a geological disaster and the end of life as we know for people is half a dozen districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
But what was Kalam? He was just an ordinary man born in a fisher-village in Tamil Nadu, who by dint of his sheer hard work received an engineering degree and pursued his higher studies. Made in India, truly. At the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), he organized the manufacture of the missile system for the Indian army. He did not invent the missile, he re-invented it some three decades after the Soviets and the Americans did it. His role in the atom bomb, the other great re-invention by the Indian scientists was minimal – that credit should go the bright men in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
But he was an honest man. No body has accused him of corruption and I do not think he has amassed any wealth beyond his legitimate income.
And he also lived a simple life. Friends who used to attend the dinners he hosted in the Presidential Palace for eminent scientists say that the menu for the guests was anything you could guess. But the President's dinner was kanji and payar (rice soup and boiled moong dal), a habit which he cultivated when he was working in Thiruvananthapuram.
What about his attitude towards scientists who diasgreed with him on developmental issues? He was a strong supporter of the now-notorious river-linking project till he discussed the issue with Prof Ramaswamy, a geologist at the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, who wrote a critique on the project. After that discussion, he did not utter a word about this dream project. He did not retract his earlier support, may be due to 'Reasons of State', as he was the President of India. If he had similar discussions with other eminent geologists like Prof Victor Rajamanickam and Roger Bilham, would he have changed his position on Kudankulam and Jaitapur projects?
One of the most controversial judgment made by Kalam in the recent past was his certification of Kudankulam reactor as the safest after an 'inspection' of the plant for a couple of hours. Anyone with some knowledge of complicated machines like a nuclear reactor knows that such certification cannot be done in a 'walk-around' inspection. It is done by complicate instruments operated by technicians and the experts – several of them – look a the computer printouts. Kalam was doing the job of a poster boy. And it helped as the mainstream media celebrated his expert judgement. Was he wrong in his judgement? The reactor did not explode; if one relies upon the Department of Atomic Energy, it is doing well. But the operators at KKNPP, who had a harrowing experience with that untamable machine, know the truth. Much more than what the readers of the Countercurrents know.
Was this celebrated scientist really a scientist? If you ask this question to a young student ten years from now, she will scholar.google for 'APJ+Abdul+Kalam'. She will not find a single entry as Kalam not published a single paper in peer-reviewed science. DRDO scientists are not allowed to publish papers on the science they do; they can publish papers on music, art, culture etc. But Kalam also worked in the civilian space research centre for a long time.
All said, Kalam was an honest and simple villager, whose manufactured greatness was used to sell dangerous or useless projects in the name of science. He was lucky that he went before one of his dream project was burried or exploded creating a nightmare for millions of people living under the radioactive plume.
VT Padmanabhan has been researching on health effects of ionizing radiation and chemicals. He has written extensively on the safety issues Kudankulam, Mithi Virdi and Jaitapur nuclear projects. He has also written on food-safety related topics like dioxin and heavy metals. He can be reached