While it was his work at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that brought him laurels and earned him the name of ‘Missile Man’, A P J Abdul Kalam probably belonged more at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he spent two decades of his career, according to Y S Rajan, one of his closest associates.
Rajan, a friend for 50 years who co-authored three books with Kalam including the bestsellers Mission India and Vision 2020, said it was only a relative leadership vacuum in DRDO that made Kalam’s shift compelling.
“It was Raja Ramanna who initiated his shift from ISRO to DRDO, and it was V S Arunachalam (former DRDO chief) who convinced Kalam to make the shift. Many people advised Kalam against it. I happened to be among the very few people who supported him in making the shift,” Rajan said.
“I guess Satish Dhawan (then ISRO chief) would not have been very happy to let Kalam go. But ISRO was then populated with a galaxy of very bright scientists. And there was a relative leadership vacuum at DRDO. Kalam shifted, and did exceedingly well, but I think his skills and knowledge were such that he seemed to belong more at ISRO,” he said.
Rajan was 21 years old when he met Kalam at ISRO. “He was about 33-34 years old and had already distinguished himself. I was a research scholar then. Later, I used to be surprised when many people thought we went to school together,” he said.
Rajan said Kalam was the biggest karmayogi that he had known. “He gave his best to everything he did and made the most of it. The job of the President, for example, came through luck. Many friends warned him not to take it up. But look what he did with it. He transformed the Indian presidency,” he said.