India mourns death of ex-president

India mourns death of ex-president
Missed: (top) students and staff of the Indian Institute of Science holding a candlelight tribute to Dr Kalam in Bengaluru.
PHOTO: AFP

INDIA'S 11th president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam died on the evening of July 27 after collapsing during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Shillong, in Meghalaya.

He had been lecturing at IIM-Shillong since last year and had started delivering a lecture on livable planets when he collapsed and was rushed to Bethany Hospital. He was pronounced dead at 7.45pm.

His body was flown to Delhi on the morning of July 28 and taken in an army vehicle to his official residence at 10 Rajaji Marg in central Delhi.

He was accorded a state funeral with full military honours at 11am on July 30 in his hometown in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, in line with his family's wishes.

During a seven-day state mourning period until Aug 2, the national flag will fly at half-mast and there will be no official entertainment.

A nation in mourning

As news of Dr Kalam's demise spread, Indian political leaders shared their condolences.

President Pranab Mukherjee led the nation in mourning Dr Kalam. Saying he will "cherish" their long association, Mr Mukherjee added: "Dr Kalam will be long remembered for his passion for science and innovation."

Prime minister Narendra Modi was greatly upset. He said: "In this great shocking situation, I have no words to say."

Vice-president Hamid Ansari termed Dr Kalam a "true son of India", while Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan saluted him as a "true patriot, world-renowned scientist and original thinker".

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh recalled how he had worked very closely with Dr Kalam, who was president from 2002 to 2007, and "greatly benefited from his advice".

Congress president Sonia Gandhi called Dr Kalam "a scholar-statesman and one of the greatest scientific minds". Mr L.K. Advani, who was deputy prime minister when Dr Kalam became president, said he "served Mother India literally until the last breath".

Hailed by world leaders

Condolences also poured in for the late president from leaders all around the world.

In a signed Facebook post, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote: "Saddened to learn of the passing of India's former president

Dr Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Dr Kalam had humble beginnings, but rose to become a top scientist at India's defence research organisation. He then served as the country's 11th president from 2002 to 2007, and was widely regarded as the people's president."

His loss was felt as far away as Russia, where president Vladimir Putin said that Dr Kalam will be remembered for supporting close India-Russia ties.

"In Russia, Abdul Kalam will be remembered as a consistent exponent of closer friendly relations between our nations who has done a lot for cementing mutually beneficial Russian-Indian cooperation," he said in a message.

Loss to Indian science

Widely known as India's Missile Man, Dr Kalam was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and Bharat Ratna - the highest civilian honour - in 1997.

"It is certainly a big loss to Indian science. He was a great scientist. More than anything else, he was a great human being. He was a beacon for all and a man who could inspire everybody," said principal scientific adviser to the government R. Chidambaram.

Dr Kalam went on to become one of the most celebrated aerospace and defence scientists in the country.

His Singapore connection

Dr Kalam made several trips to Singapore.

Mr Lee shared that he "was honoured to meet Dr Kalam when he visited Singapore in 2006".

Dr Kalam also visited the Global Indian International School (GIIS) campuses, in 2006, 2008 and 2011. The students who met him were inspired and awestruck by him.

Said Samruddhi Satav, who was in Class 10 in 2011 when the former president visited the GIIS East Coast campus:

"Dr Kalam's answers to the questions gave us an insight of his analytical knowledge and understanding in a vast array of fields from social developments in India to environment and political changes."

Vishnu Prasad, who was in Class 9 at the time, was similarly awestruck by his presence: "His love for children was seen soon after his arrival at our campus, where, in his characteristic fashion, he stopped frequently to greet and speak to the children en route to the auditorium."

Dr Kalam preached that work is worship, and while some schools declared July 28 a holiday, many other schools and government offices worked through the day.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu said Dr Kalam's message was not to declare a holiday on his death but work extra, and the state government requested all educational institutions and government offices to function for an extra hour as a mark of respect.

In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that the government will name a scheme to provide educational loans up to Rs10 lakhs after Dr Kalam. A new agriculture college in Kishanganj, Bihar, will also be named after him.


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