The Kalam years

The Kalam Effect: My Years with the President by P.M.Nair, Harper Collins in collaboration with India Today Group,New Delhi, 2008.

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.

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1 comment
  • It is indeed heartening to know that President Kalam’s conscience was troubled after the SC judgment. Given that Buta Singh and the PM were acting in a blatantly political and partisan way, it was incumbent upon the President to delay the signing, come back, discuss and let the situation diffuse. The delaying signing tactic has been often used by Presidents and is completely valid in a situation where politics, not governance, is at play. Incidentally, Mr.Nair appears to have acted less like an advisor to the President of India and more like a representative of the Congress party in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mr Nair could not “stomach the 18 day delay” in sigining the office for profit bill – a bill which was brought in specifically to safeguard the extra constitutional super-prime minister role of Ms.Sonia Gandhi! No wonder the Congress party did not want a second term for President Kalam. The Congress and bureaucrats like Mr. Nair are uncomfortable with a President who has a conscience. They just want a rubber stamp and have managed to replace him with one. Good for them, very sad for India…