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“It is very easy to defeat someone but it is very hard to win someone” – APJ Abdul Kalam once said.
The ‘missile man’ of India had won millions of hearts and left everyone shocked when he departed on July 27 last year. Kalam breathed his last at the age of 83 while doing what he loved the most, delivering a lecture at the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management (RG-IIM) in Shillong. The demise, of Kalam, India’s 11th President, also known as the ‘People’s President’, sent ripples throughout the nation which had great admiration for his supreme conduct and ability to inspire innumerable youth. The government had announced a seven-day state of mourning, during which the national flag was flown half-mast throughout the country.
There was an apparent outpour of emotion as thousands flocked to pay their last tributes to the deceased leader at his New Delhi residence – 10 Rajaji Marg. Prior to that, President Pranab Mukherjee along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and several other dignitaries reached Palam airport in Delhi to receive Kalam’s body after it was flown in from Shillong. At Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, where Kalam spent his childhood, a state funeral with full military honours was organised for him and amidst resounding sorrow, he was laid to rest on July 30.
Immediately after APJ Abdul Kalam’s demise, political parties as well as citizen’s started demanding that places, institutes and streets be renamed after him. On July 28, the Samajwadi Party announced that it will ask Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to rename the 35-km long proposed coastal road in Mumbai to be named after Kalam.
Earth observation and disaster risk reduction satellite GlobalSat was renamed UN Kalam GlobalStat. Wheeler Island in Odisha, a space science museum in Kakkanad, Kerala, and DRDO’s missile complex in Hyderabad were among those that were named after Kalam.
However, this also led to controversy after BJP’s MLA East Delhi MP Maheish Girri proposed renaming a road named after Aurangzeb in Lutyen’s Delhi to Abdul Kalam. A debate over ‘correcting the history’ and ‘politicising his death’ emerged but eventually the order was passed by New Delhi Municipal Corporation on August 28.
Tales of inspiration
Several incidents, that highlight the humility and respect which Kalam showed to others, are known. From asking for a ‘bigger size’ chair allocated to him to be replaced with a normal chair, to sitting on the floor while interacting with journalists – Kalam has inspired many with his humbleness.
One such tale emerged after his personal adviser, who was accompanying him to Shillong, revealed how Kalam was concerned about the security officials on duty. “He kept insisting that the security man must sit down and we had even sent a radio message, but nothing worked out. After reaching our destination he asked me to find him out so that he could thank him. And he did thank him and even said ‘sorry’ for he had to stand for so long because of him,” Srijan Pal Singh had then told PTI.
Family’s anger and nationwide support
Months after he was laid to rest at Rameswaram, Kalam’s family raised their voice against the neglect and ignorance of government meted out to him. His 99-year-old brother started an online petition to gather support for building a memorial at his burial site, which he said was lying in despair.
Another online campaign started by a journalist demanded his official bungalow in New Delhi be converted into a knowledge centre. Another petition, among a string of many, demanded that the memorial should be built in the national capital.
The anniversary of demise
Today, to mark the anniversary of his death, a number of events have been planned by the Ministry of Defence as well as state governments across the country. A life-size statue of Dr Kalam was unveiled at Rameswaram and the foundation stone for a National Memorial is also to be laid at his burial site. A Kalam Memorial will be inaugurated by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at INA, in the national capital, on July 30. At IIM Shillong, a series of lectures on making the world a better place is going to be organised to honour Kalam’s last memory.