Monday, 30th October 2017

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How Kalam overruled NDA on Gujarat

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  • Published 2.07.12

July 1: The UPA government was not the only dispensation to have got a taste of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s independent-mindedness during his tenure at Rashtrapati Bhavan from 2002 to 2007.

So had the BJP-led NDA, which had nominated Kalam for President, suggest passages in his yet-to-be-released book, Turning Points — A Journey Through Challenges.

Kalam writes that barely a month after becoming President, he had virtually overruled the NDA government and visited riot-hit Gujarat.

When he decided to tour Gujarat as his first major task, Kalam says, then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee asked him: “Do you consider going to Gujarat at this time essential?”

Kalam told him: “I consider it an important duty so that I can be of some use to remove the pain, and also accelerate the relief activities, and bring about a unity of minds, which is my mission, as I stressed in my address during the swearing-in ceremony.”

The June 30 edition of The Telegraph cited portions of Kalam’s latest book where he has described his uneasy relationship with the UPA government. In another chapter, he has sketched his differences with some in the earlier NDA ministry.

Without identifying anyone, Kalam says that many fears were expressed, such as that chief minister Narendra Modi might boycott his visit. Kalam avoids naming the home ministry, which was under L.K. Advani, but adds: “At the ministry and bureaucratic level, it was suggested that I should not venture into Gujarat at that point of time. One of the main reasons was political.”

Kalam says he was told he would receive a cold reception and that there would be protests from many sides.

“But to my great surprise, when I landed at Gandhinagar, not only the chief minister, but his entire cabinet and a large number of legislators, officials and members of the public were present at the airport. I visited twelve areas —three relief camps and nine riot-hit locations where the losses had been high,” he says.

The BJP today bristled at the claims by its favourite. “Kalam’s claim that Vajpayee was reluctant about his Gujarat visit is wholly untrue,” Bihar BJP chief C.P. Thakur, who was health minister in the Vajpayee cabinet, said in Patna.

“Vajpayeeji was very much concerned about the Gujarat riots; he readily went there to take care of the victims. Why should he have not been keen on Kalam going there?” Thakur asked.

Asked about Kalam’s claim of a “political” reason behind the NDA government’s stand, which some have seen as a finger pointed at Modi, Thakur said: “He should not have written such things.... Kalam has broken the vow of official secrecy.”

The book, though, does not make any adverse comment on Modi.

“Narendra Modi, the chief minister, was with me throughout the visit. In one way, this helped me, as wherever I went, I received petitions and complaints and as he was with me I was able to suggest to him that action be taken as quickly as possible,” Kalam writes.

He recalls a scene at a relief camp, where a six-year-old boy walked up to him, held his hands and said: “Rashtrapatiji, I want my mother and father.”

“I was speechless,” Kalam writes. “There itself, I held a quick meeting with the district collector. The chief minister also assured me that the boy’s education and welfare would be taken care of by the government.”