Tens of thousands of people bid an an emotional farewell to former Indian president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who was on Thursday (30) laid to rest in his home town of Rameswaram in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The ‘people’s president’ was buried with full military honours in the presence of prime minister Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and several other leaders.
Draped in the Indian tricolour, Kalam’s body was brought from a local mosque to the burial site at Pei Karumbu in a flower-bedecked gun carriage, escorted by columns of the three armed services.
A gun salute was accorded to the former supreme commander of the armed forces and a military band played the Last Post.
Kalam, who was India’s 11th president from 2002 to 2007, died from cardiac arrest in Bethany Hospital Shillong, capital of Meghalaya, on Monday. He had collapsed earlier in the day while delivering a lecture, according to Indian media reports.
Popularly known as ‘Missile Man’, Kalam led the scientific team that developed missiles able to carry India’s nuclear warheads. He became a national hero after helping oversee nuclear tests in 1998 that solidified India’s status as a nuclear weapons state. The country’s first atomic test was in 1974.
A statement from Narendra Modi’s office said, “India mourns the loss of a great scientist, a wonderful president and above all, an inspiring individual”.
Modi said of Kalam, who was elected to the top post during the previous Bharatiya Janata Party rule, that he had “always marvelled at his intellect, learnt so much from him”.
Home minister Rajnath Singh described him as “an inspiration to an entire generation” in a Twitter post.
An acclaimed scientist and author, Kalam continued to reach out to young people with his scientific lectures after leaving office.
Born to a poor family of boatman in Rameswaram, a coastal town in Tamil Nadu on October 15, 1931, Kalam sold newspapers as a child to help his family. He rose through the ranks to become a top scientist at India’s defence research organisation, where he worked for four decades helping to develop the country’s home-grown weapon’s programme, earning him the nickname “India’s missile man”.
Kalam, who wrote a number of books including one called Ignited Minds, became best known as a tireless campaigner for unleashing India’s technological muscle and discouraging expensive imports from the West.
Only last month, he launched a book he co-wrote based on his conversations with spiritual leader His Holiness Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Transcendence is co-written by Kalam and Professor Arun Tiwari, a missile scientist.
After his presidential term, Kalam returned to academics and regularly delivered lectures at top Indian universities. He also published a best selling autobiography entitled Wings Of Fire in 1999.
President Pranab Mukherjee said, “He was the people’s president. Even after his death he will continue to be the people’s president.
“No president was ever loved so much. (India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal) Nehru earned the love and affection of children and after that we found Kalam. Sometimes when he was with children, it appeared to me that he was Nehru in another form. He was always inspiring new ideas, new thoughts.”
Finance minister Arun Jaitley expressed his condolences on Twitter: “We have lost an ideal citizen. May his soul rest in peace.”
A bachelor, the former president was known for playing the veena and was interested in Carnatic music. He was vegetarian all his life.
For his contribution to India’s missile programme, Kalam was awarded with Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 1997.
He was also awarded Padma Bhushan in 1981 and Padma Vibhushan in 1990.