He should not have been the president the first time round. He did not deserve to be president. This was a mischief played apparently by Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, and a cynical Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grabbed it with glee because its own choice of P.C.Alexander, who has been turned down by Congress and Sonia Gandhi because and again apparently because he was a Christian. At that time it was speculated that if there was a Christian president then Sonia Gandhi would not be able to become a prime minister because there cannot be a Christian president and a Christian prime minister. This speculation would certainly be rubbished by all the political parties, officially, including the BJP. The BJP found in Kalam an ideal Muslim, a man from Tamil Nadu, who spoke no Urdu, read the Bhagavadgita, played the Veena, that is a Muslim who was culturally a Hindu! Kalam was a diligent and fanatically devout defense engineer, who relentlessly worked on the missile programme and he was also sort of associated with the 1998 nuclear tests. Kalam was not a distinguished scientist in the way Raja Ramanna, the nuclear scientist, who was associated with the 1974 nuclear tests.
The Left parties had a point when they argued that they opposed Kalam's candidacy as president in 2002 because of his association with the nuclear explosions.The Congress dared not oppose him -- and a senior Congress leader had even accepted this at the time -- because it did not want to be seen opposing a Muslim candidate and also a man associated with nuclear tests.Of course, the Congress as usual was pusillanimous. It could have learned a lesson from the Left.
Kalam should not have become the president in the first place because the president's post is not a reward for good work done in some field, even if that field happens to be that of national security. If Dwight Eisenhower, who was the chief of Allied forces in World War II, became the presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 1952 and re-elected again in 1957, he fought through to the Republican nomination and then fought a national election. He had to articulate his views on matters of national policy to the country. Of course, the Indian president does not have to fight a popular election. He has to deal with just the members of parliament and members of state legislatures. But Kalam had no views worth speaking of and the Indian presidential campaign did not require him to do any such thing. But there was this silly frenzy in the Indian middle class that he did the country proud by getting the nuclear tests done, and they also believed ignorantly that he was the scientific brain behind the tests! So much for the informed views of the educated middle class. Kalam was like any other technician, a good man certainly, passionate about strengthening India's defense. But that is not sufficient to become the president. He does not have the stature to be a president and he did not acquire one through his five years in Rashtrapati Bhavan. He remained an amiable eccentric and the politicians were happy to deal with him because it was easy to deal with him.
We would never know what really transpired when Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh met him in May 2004. Sonia Gandhi's detractors have put out a story that it was Kalam who stood between Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister's seat by quoting some outlandish legal technicality. The BJP perhaps is grateful to him for it. The rest of the country sees no merit in this if that is what he had done.
Kalam as president and after that too has carefully cultivated this image of being an inspirational figure, some sort of a secular evangelist. For some strange reason, the Indian middle class have grown to love this good man with not many public abilities or a serious national vision or grasp of the real problems of India. There is need for eccentrics like him who can come up with out-of-the-box ideas to town and village planning. But they need to be pruned before they are accepted. Kalam rightly belongs to a think tank of innovations. But not the president. There is a seriousness and gravity to the office of the president which he conspicuously lacked. But such is the lack of seriousness of the middle class that they began to project him as a people's president! And the middle class anger against the political class has also helped in the canonisation of Kalam.
The country has to get serious, especially the middle class, about politics if it is to be reformed. The solution to setting right political ills is not to hunt for the so-called apolitical good man but to look for an honest and seasoned politician who understands the obligations of being a politician and who understands the constitution and who will play fair by it. Kalam may be well-meaning but he does not have the intellectual ability to do well by the country and the constitution. It is not his fault that he is not endowed with political sagacity which comes from a lifetime of experience. And he lacks it.
We will not be insulting Kalam when we say that he is not fit to be a president even as we will not be insulting him if we were to say that he is not fit to be a chief of the armed forces or that he cannot be the chairman of an industrial conglomerate. India needs a political president. Kalam is not political. It is not a virtue but it is a disqualification. If the people understand this, then the silly political parties will come to their senses, including Mulayam Singh Yadav and the BJP.