June 29, 2002


 Search the Internet
E-Mail this guest column to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on HP Laserjets
Sajid Bhombal

A man of India's vision

'The first vision for India was to gain independence. The second vision for a country of one billion people is to develop into a strong nation, economically strong and self-reliant, and its people to be globally respected.' - A P J Abdul Kalam

I was in Germany for a conference recently. The other participants were mostly Europeans. Hence the after-work discussions largely revolved around -- what else? -- football. Being a novice at the game, I was mostly isolated; till someone who realised that I was being kept out of the discussion opened a new topic: the chances of a nuclear war in the subcontinent.

Why do you guys want to blow each other up? Why does Hindu India occupy Muslim Kashmir? Why have Muslims been massacred in India? Why is your politics all about killings?

Questions like those make one wonder how little the outside world knows about us.

Back home, I tuned into a programme on television -- BBC's 'Beyond the Boundary'. What a pleasant change from football to cricket! Why doesn't the whole world play cricket? If nothing else, we would at least have Sachin Tendulkar to talk about.

Or so I thought till BBC brought in (in a match where Kumble achieved the perfect 10) the issue of snake charmers! Why in a programme of cricket did the BBC need to bring in the issue of snake charmers, I wondered.

India -- a country of snake charmers. That is the image created in the outside world.

Is it their fault? Are we doing anything to change that image? Why have we lost our way since Independence? Why did India falter in what Kalam calls its second vision?

All this can be simply summed up in one sentence. Our politicians -- those who are in charge of the destiny of this nation -- lack vision. A vision to make 'India strong, self-reliant and globally respected'.

That is precisely why Kalam's nomination to the post of President has so widely been welcomed by all classes. The man has vision, which our politicians lack.

Would Kalam make a good President? There is no definite answer to that question. The common man certainly does not have an answer. But that does not deter him from accepting Kalam, because if not Kalam we would have had a politician in his place. An old politician suitably rewarded to enjoy a comfortable retirement in Rashtrapati Bhavan. He wouldn't be a great President, none have been. That much we know.

Kalam has not disappointed us so far. In fact, even before he has assumed office he has achieved what a politician President could not have in his/her entire term. He has given the nation a vision. He has raised our hopes. He has shown us a way. Just read the following sound bytes from him:

"The nation needs young leaders who can command the change for transformation of India into a developed nation embedded with knowledge society in 20 years from now."

"The leaders are the creators of new organisations of excellence. Quality leaders are like magnets who will attract the best of persons to build the team for the organisation and give inspiring leadership even during failures of individuals or organisation."

"When I was asked by a young girl whether I was a scientist, technologist, or a Muslim, or an Indian, my reply was, 'First and foremost you should be a good human being and then all these elements are inside you."

"I can only say that we should try to see whether religion can graduate into spiritualism, managers can graduate into leaders, and political leaders turn into political leaders with compassion."

Of course, he needs to walk that talk. Whether he can do that, we will see. But my point is, at least the man has articulated the problems facing the nation quite accurately.

This is not so say that Kalam has no limitations. Even if the post of President is largely ceremonial, with not much power bestowed on him, a President needs to have a sound knowledge of constitutional, legal and political matters. Kalam lacks that. But we have largely overlooked that. Why? Because our political class has let us down so much that anyone but them is welcome. In other words, India is all so ready to reject the political class, which has given us nothing but disappointment, and accept anyone -- even with limitations -- who gives us a reason to be optimistic about ourselves and India.

Being a successful man in his field, we have a reason to be optimistic about Kalam. And today, when there is nothing but pessimism all around, the optimism does bring a breath of fresh air.

But ugly politics will just not leave us even when the entire nation gets enthusiastic about having a presidential nominee who is above politics. 'What is Muslim about Kalam?' was the title of a rather uncharacteristic article by Dr Rafiq Zakaria in The Asian Age. My question is -- does it matter? Even while questioning his 'Muslimness', Zakaria says, 'Every Indian feels proud of him; he is in every respect a Bharat Ratna.' How can such a man -- a Bharat Ratna -- not inspire Indian Muslims?

It is not the degree of Muslimness that matters. Who is to decide the precise degree of Muslimness in a particular person (read Saeed Naqvi's 'Islam's Many Children' in The Indian Express)? What Indian Muslims need desperately are men and women who show them a way out of the minority syndrome, something that our political class is always ready to push them further into, and get on with life. They need someone who sets an example -- an example of success. Kalam, even if he had not directly participated in the affairs of the community (as alleged by Zakaria), has -- by example -- given enough inspiration to Indian Muslims to succeed.

On the other hand, while reacting to the Left's decision not to support Kalam, the BJP accused the leftists of exposing their commitment towards secularism. In other words, the BJP thinks that no matter how many differences one may have over its nominee, since the candidate happens to be a Muslim everyone has to support him in order to pass the test of secularism.

Not so long ago, L K Advani had coined a term for such a loyalty test for secularism. He called it pseudo-secularism.

His own party has now joined the pseudo-secularist club.

The race for fanaticism
Red in the face: Varsha Bhosle
"A titular head?": Arvind Lavakare
Towards Rashtrapati Bhavan: T V R Shenoy
Of symbolic and real fights: Amberish K Diwanji
All the President's Men: Rajeev Srinivasan
Kalam and Islam: Najid Hussain

Presidential Election 2002

Tell us what you think of this column