Former president and Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam died on Monday after collapsing during a lecture in Shillong. He was 83.
Kalam, who reached Shillong via Guwahati in the morning, collapsed during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management-Shillong (IIM-S) around 6:30 pm and rushed to the Bethany Hospital there.
Doctors at the hospital said he was brought dead around 7pm. “He had no pulse when he was admitted to the hospital. We can attribute his death to cardiac arrest,” a doctor said.
The hospital authorities, however, refrained from confirming the death until Meghalaya governor V Shanmughanathan and chief secretary PBO Warjri visited the hospital around 8pm.
“The body of the former president will be flown to New Delhi via Guwahati Tuesday morning,” Warjri said.
IIM-S officials said Kalam, who had tweeted in the morning about the function, showed no signs of illness after he reached the Meghalaya capital. “We had a packed house for the lecture on Liveable Planet Earth,” an official said.
From ‘Missile Man’ to ‘People’s President’
Kalam served as president for five years from 2002, enjoying the support of both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
Kalam was closely involved in the country’s civilian space programme and military missile development efforts, earning him the sobriquet ‘India’s Missile Man’. He worked as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) before he became president.
He also played a pivotal technical and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, shortly after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to power.
After his term, he returned to a life of education, writing, and public service. He received several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor.
The government is set to announce a national mourning of seven days.
“As president of India, Dr. Kalam was immensely popular and greatly admired. His warmth, humility and simple ways endeared him to one and all. He had a special love for children and sought to constantly inspire the youth of our country through motivational speeches and personal interaction,” President Pranab Mukherjee said.
“India mourns the loss of a great scientist, a wonderful President & above all an inspiring individual. My mind is filled with so many memories, so many interactions with him. Always marvelled at his intellect, learnt so much from him, tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Dr. Kalam was a man of impeccable character, indomitable spirit, profound knowledge and firm conviction. His death is an irreparable loss to this nation. He has left a big void hard to fill,” said home minister Rajnath Singh.
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 in a poor Tamil Muslim family in Rameswaram. But he overcame all odds to study physics and aerospace engineering.
After graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT – Chennai) in 1960, he joined DRDO as a scientist. He started his career by designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army.
In 1969, Kalam was transferred to ISRO, where he was project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in orbit.
In the 1970s, Kalam also directed projects which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme.
He later became chief executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme which developed missiles like Agni and Prithvi.
Kalam served as the chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister and the secretary of the DRDO from July 1992 to December 1999 during which time Pokhran-II was conducted.
Role model for students
A vegetarian bachelor, Kalam was quoted as saying that like most of the technology he spearheaded, he himself was “Made in India”, having never been trained abroad.
Kalam succeeded K R Narayanan and served a full five-year term from 2002 until 2007 after he won the presidential elections which was a highly one-sided contest with Lakshmi Sahgal, a revolutionary of the Indian Independence movement, as his rival. He secured the backing of all political parties.
A role model for students and young people Kalam was always happy to be among them and educational institutions. He breathed his last in the premises of an educational institution.