He was also not raised or trained to be a prominent politician or public figure.
He rose to be regarded as one of our greatest scientists, ranking alongside C.V. Raman and Jagadish Chandra Bose, and far exceeding his mentor’s formation of Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, as well as his peers in DAE, ISRO, and DRDO.
He became India`s most popular great orator across generations, geographies, and demographics, and he never spoke in a hall that wasn`t packed to the brim with standees.
His books, such as India 2020, were in the essence of pontifical DIYs, but they grew into the biggest non-fiction vendors in our historical memory and will continue to be so for a long time.
After Chacha Nehru, a benevolent Nana Kalam, he became the leader most beloved by our children. His stature rose to the point that he was our most political president, and he did so in a wholly wise and non-partisan professional way.
He was loved and trusted by all communities, but he rose to become the Muslim most beloved by India`s Hindu majority in our long existence, potentially since Mughal Emperor Akbar.
In April 2001, I published the first of two National Interests that were harshly critical of him and the DRDO`s failures under him (`Kalam`s Banana Republic,) and the next time I did run into him, literally, jogging from the opposite direction in south Delhi’s Siri Fort Sports Complex, where he started walking in the evening hours (he lived in a DRDO guesthouse in the Asian Games Village next door), he started to notice I was avoiding eye contact in fear.
He came to a halt, a big smile on his face, and said he wanted to tell me how so much he did enjoy that article and how completely he agreed with it. “We need to do something,” he said, his face flushed with sarcasm. But, as anyone who knew Kalam over time knows, he never spoke between the lines.
They were India`s first BJP-led government, and they were aware of the need to appear and feel inclusive. But it was also surprising to them how Kalam had grown with the job. After the Gujarat riots, India desperately needed his healing touch.
His was the greatest effective intervention of all, and he delivered it in such a spectacular way that even Hindus came to respect him more. However, Kalam’s legacy is far more profound than this. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized how profound Karan Thapar`s excellent interview with him was after the India Today Group.
He reminded us that there would have been no nuclear deal with the US if Kalam had not intervened. The numbers were stacked against Manmohan Singh as the monsoon session of Parliament began in 2008, and Prakash Karat announced that he was withdrawing his support for the UPA and would vote with the BJP to bring down the government over the nuclear deal.
With Mulayam Singh Yadav`s defection, he won his most dangerous political battle. Mulayam was actually opposed to the nuclear deal, especially considering his Muslim voter base. Mulayam, on the other hand, required a flimsy excuse leaf.
This was offered by Kalam, who spoke out strongly in support of the agreement. Mulayam and Amar Singh simply repeated: If Dr. Kalam says it`s fine, it must be so. In fact, if you go away to the parliamentary debate on that confidence motion, you can see Asaduddin Owaisi defend the nuclear deal with zeal, effectively turning his politics inside out. Kalam, the patriot, also provided cover there.
Surprisingly, this is still a relatively less memorable intervention, and it has not been prominently mentioned in the numerous obituaries and homages written