An Antithesis Of A President

Kalam, too, had his share of controversies

New Delhi : Popular as the “Missile Man,” Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had humble moorings and earned the reputation of being the “people’s President” who endeared himself to all sections, especially the young.

But the nondescript President seemed rather out of place in the splendour of the Rashtrapati Bhavan at Raisina Hills. The flowing grey locks of the country’s first bachelor President were also at odds with the persona of a Head of State. He also broke all norms and reached out to the masses as no president of the Indian union had ever done.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee possibly saw in him a figurehead who could help heal some of the scars of the communal riots which had erupted in Gujarat a few months earlier.

Incidentally, during his tenure as President, Kalam came up for criticism for his inaction in deciding the fate of 20 out of 21 mercy petitions. He acted on only one mercy plea in his 5-year tenure when he rejected the plea of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was hanged thereafter.

He answered critics over the delay in deciding on the mercy plea of Afzal Guru, who was on the death row in the Parliament terror attack case, by saying that he had not received any papers from the government. Guru, too, was subsequently hanged.

Kalam also faced criticism when he conveyed his assent from abroad to the controversial decision to impose President’s rule in Bihar in 2005. He, however, sought to dismiss the criticism, saying he has no regrets.

Kalam, on one occasion, showed that he was not a ‘rubber stamp’ Constitutional head by refusing to approve the Office-of-Profit Bill. It was an unexpected response that sent tremors across the political establishment, especially the ruling Congress and its leftist allies. The next day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was left to explain the matter to the President and somehow get his consent for the Prevention of Disqualification (Amendment) Bill 2006. Kalam succeeded K R Narayanan and served a full five-year term 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.

However, in 2007 due to lack of political consensus he could not secure a second term, even though there was an outpouring of popular support for him. The Left parties were opposed to him.

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