People’s President Kalam laid to rest
Former president and Bharat Ratna A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was laid to rest on Thursday here with full military honours in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several other leaders.
The body of Kalam – warmly called the People’s President – was draped in the Indian tricolour and brought to the burial site at Pei Karumbu in a flower-bedecked gun carriage, escorted by columns of the three armed services.
People in large numbers lined up along the route to catch a last glimpse of Kalam, the rocket and missile scientist.
Many had climbed atop an under construction building and other buildings.
A gun salute was accorded to the former supreme commander of the armed forces and a military band played the haunting ‘Last Post’.
After Kalam’s body was lowered into the earth, prayers were held following which the grave was closed and then covered with flower petals.
Modi, who arrived here on Thursday morning, paid his last respects to the country’s youth icon and popular president by laying a wreath.
Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah, union Ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu, Manohar Parrikar and Pon Radhakrishnan, Tamil Nadu ministers O.Panneerselvam, Natham R. Viswanathan and others also paid their last respects to Kalam.
Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam and Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy were also present, as was Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders also paid their last respects to Kalam.
Earlier the mortal remains of India’s eleventh president were taken to the family mosque for prayers.
His family members also reached here.
“All our relatives have also arrived to attend the last rites,” A.P.J.M.K. Sheik Saleem, the former president’s brother’s grandson, told IANS.
The Tamil Nadu government declared a public holiday on Thursday under the Negotiable Instruments Act. Banks, insurance companies, schools and colleges were closed throughout the state.
The government has also ordered closure of liquor shops and bars in the state.
Around 30,000 jewellery shops remained closed, while petrol bunks stopped sales for an hour between 10a.m.-11 a.m. as a mark of respect to Kalam.
Movie theatre owners too decided to shut down for the day while fishermen decided not to venture into the sea.
In state capital Chennai, shops in busy commercial areas like Pondy Bazaar and T.Nagar remained shut. Shops in other localities were also closed as a mark of respect to Kalam.
Political parties like the DMK and the AIADMK have cancelled their functions.
Interestingly, the decision of private sector organisations to voluntarily shut down shows that Kalam was truly a People’s President.
Born in Rameswaram on October 15, 1931, Kalam, as a boy, hawked newspapers to supplement his family’s income. His father owned a boat and his mother struggled constantly to keep the family fed and clothed.
His sister pawned jewellery with a moneylender so that the studious Kalam could carry Rs.600 when he left Rameswaram to join the Madras Institute of Technology.
In 1958, Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
He moved to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he was project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III), which successfully injected the Rohini satellite in the near earth orbit in July 1980 and made India a member of the exclusive Space Club.
In his two-decade stint at the space agency, he was responsible for the evolution of ISRO’s launch vehicle programme, particularly the PSLV configuration.
He rejoined DRDO in 1982, and planned the programme that produced a number of successful missiles, earning him the “Missile Man” nickname.
Kalam took up the responsibility of developing indigenous weapons as the chief executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). He was responsible for the development and operationalisation of Agni and Prithvi missiles.
From 1992 to 1997, Kalam was scientific adviser to the defence minister, and later served as principal scientific adviser (1999-2001) to the government with the rank of cabinet minister.
Kalam played a prominent role in the country’s 1998 nuclear weapons tests, Pokhran-II, which made him a national hero.
Unlike many of his presidential predecessors, Kalam did not sit idle but was busy meeting students and the youth across the country.
Even at the time of his death, Kalam was addressing the students of the Indian Institute of Management-Shillong on July 27.
“It is typical of him to breathe his last giving a lecture to the students. Kalam’s life proves the point that in India one can reach the highest position in the country provided one puts in necessary hard work,” R.Chidambaram, principal scientific advisor to the government, told IANS earlier.