Listening to Kalam

His memoirs confirm that the president’s job is vitally political

Written by The Indian Express | Published: July 2, 2012 2:52 am

His memoirs confirm that the president’s job is vitally political

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s fascinating book of memoirs,Turning Points,has undercut some partisan talking points of the recent past. In the process,he has also demonstrated exactly how much a president matters,how his actions in office and the later interpretation of those actions,are a crucially political affair. These memoirs also point out the error in the popular myth-making of Kalam as an “apolitical president”.

One of the most charged takeaways from the book is that of Sonia Gandhi’s decision to not bid for prime-ministership in 2004,and to nominate Manmohan Singh instead. Kalam deflates the theory that she declined the office because of a signal from the president. Instead,Kalam clarifies,to accept the claim of the leader of the majority party would simply have been a constitutional imperative. Kalam also dwells on another uncomfortable subject for the NDA — his decision to visit Gujarat in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 communal violence,despite the clear reluctance of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his officials. Kalam’s visit may not have been politic in the BJP’s scheme of things,but it was a reaching out and a response he deemed necessary to a tragedy. He also makes note of several other points in his presidency where he was challenged by events,and forced to consider the most judicious and correct way forward — over death penalties,or over the right formulation of the Office of Profit Bill. This book highlights something that may well get lost in the point-scoring between the Congress and the NDA over Kalam’s version of events — that the president’s job is far from the ceremonial,ritualised affair some assume it to be,virtuously floating above the fray. It demands delicate judgment calls,intelligent discrimination,and a sense of public purpose.

Kalam’s memoirs are a welcome addition to the meagre collection of first-hand accounts of public life in this country. Lead actors in India’s political life do not often tell their stories in their own words,or record their impressions of the times they lived through or shaped. This book,as it sets some contested facts straight and lays out Kalam’s formidable presidential legacy,provides a valuable insight into the nation’s past.

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