07/08/2015 5:06 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Farewell to India's Missile Man

Former Indian President (also known as the "Missile Man"), Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who died of cardiac arrest, was laid to rest last on 30 July in Rameshwaram with full state honours.

Dr Kalam was born in 1931 into a poor family in Tamil Nadu but went on have a distinguished career in which he received over 30 honorary doctorates from some of the leading universities in the world, including the University of Edinburgh and the University of Wolverhampton. He was awarded India's highest civilian honours including the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and the Bharat Ratna.

The scientist turned political figure led a unique and visionary life constantly looking to pre-empt the economic, social and security challenges India would face in the future. During his tenure as President, Dr Kalam was often referred to as the "people's President". His child-like demeanour often blinkered the public and politicians alike to his inner restlessness.

"Dr Kalam, by all accounts, was a man with a mission: to invigorate the Indian political and economic climate. He performed this mission skilfully through the field that he knew best: science."

Kalam came to be known as India's "Missile Man" amongst political circles following his aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapon and strategic missile defence programmes, both of which were considered by him as vital milestones to ensuring security and becoming a global superpower. Even in his hawkish political endeavours, Dr Kalam remained fundamentally committed to the promotion of education and science, firmly believing they would give Indian society a much-needed edge in the new globalised and interdependent world.

As a Project Director, Dr Kalam made significant contributions to the first indigenous Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). Under his stewardship, the Rohini satellite was put into near-Earth orbit in July 1980, making India one of the few nations with a native satellite in active orbit.

Sowing the seeds of nuclear politics

Part of Dr Kalam's vision was to project India as a formidable superpower on the world stage and in particular to its hostile neighbours, China and Pakistan. Kalam believed in the theory of nuclear deterrence and believed that despite its pacifist inclinations, India should aspire to become a nuclear weapon state.

Dr Kalam served as Chief of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). At DRDO, Kalam's stature grew, enabling him to draw together many different institutions to modernise India's defence capabilities without interference.

In this role, he worked on developing and bringing into operation the indigenous Agni and Prithvi missiles. According to figures available from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India currently possesses some 90-110 nuclear warheads for delivery by missiles and aircraft with the latter delivery system providing the most mature component of India's nuclear strike capability. Whilst the Prithvi I/II was introduced into the Strategic Forces Command in 2003, the Agni V land based ballistic missile is still under development.

Rockets away

Perhaps one of the most important contributions to the Indian Space Mission by Dr Kalam has been the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). This rocket system has become the foundation of the Indian space programme and has provided developers with a platform for new launchers such as the Augmented SLV, the Polar SLV and the Geo synchronous SLV. Pretty much all of India's launch vehicles have evolved from Dr Kalam's original SLV-3 design.

Dr Kalam's technological genius did not stop at nuclear missiles and space rockets. He went on to serve as Chairman of the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council where he helped lead the country with 500 experts to create Vision 2020. This comprehensive plan gave a roadmap for India to begin moving towards a developed nation status.

Former ISRO Chairman, K. Radhakrishnan is quoted as saying of Dr Kalam, "...among scientists, we tend to classify people as the generalists and the super specialists, and he was a person who had a knowledge of totality. He had an ability to drive people to think."

Dr Kalam was chiefly focused on science and technology, but he had a broad enough awareness of global issues that he understood that scientific research coupled with education were central to building a stronger society. As professor of technology and societal transformation at Anna University, he communicated to his students his vision of a developed India. In this role, he made it his personal mission to mobilise young minds towards national development.

Dr Kalam, by all accounts, was a man with a mission: to invigorate the Indian political and economic climate. He performed this mission skilfully through the field that he knew best: science. Starting with his work with missiles and putting India on the global map, he went on to create important developments in India across many different fields and industries.

In all ways, Dr. Kalam was truly a visionary for Indian society and played an undeniable role in providing the foundations to India's current success.