P.M.Nair was Secretary to the former President,A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. In this absorbing book on his tenure, what interested me most were references to Kalam’s flaws and foibles. Nair says Kalam lacked punctuality, and had the weakness of being swayed by criticism in the media.
Some interesting nuggets of information like these enliven this book: He included his own views in the customary joint address to Parliament, prepared by the Govt. every year; tried to redress genuine complaints, even if trivial (a girl drew his attention through email to a non-functioning see-saw in a public park, which got attended in no time, with Nair calling up the Collector concerned); vacillated on his conduct after the Supreme Court judgment on Bihar dissolution and Buta Singh. He wanted to resign, but Nair dissuaded him from doing so. Kalam felt he could have waited rather than sign the dissolution at midnight in Moscow. But Nair gently reminded him about his own standing instruction that no proposal coming to Rashtrapati Bhavan should be delayed, but dealt with alacrity.
Kalam’s moment of vacillation again returned when Parliament resubmitted the Office of Profit Bill to him for assent, after reconsidering it. Kalam signed 18 days after receiving it, a delay which Nair says he has not been able to stomach. Nair admits that Kalam erred here.
The slim volume, however, is completely inadequate to consider the Kalam years in office in totality. Did Kalam vacillate when Vajpayee sought to prematurely dissolve the Lok Sabha and opt for early elections? Although reports suggested it, Nair’s book is silent on that. The book has a foreword by Fali S.Nariman who describes Kalam as not a politician, but politically savvy; seemingly naive -child-like – yet paradoxically astute.