NEW DELHI--India's next president is an aeronautical engineer and the father of its missile program. Today A.P.J. Abdul Kalam stayed in character at his first press conference since both the ruling and main opposition parties endorse his candidacy as the first scientist to hold the largely ceremonial post.
"The whole process appears to me like the launch campaign for a rocket system to put a satellite into orbit or a missile system to reach its target," he says about his surprise nomination 11 days ago. "And when I am elected [next month], I will endeavor to use technology ... as one of the tools to develop the nation."
From 1983 until his retirement last November, the 71-year-old Kalam headed India's ambitious Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme at the Defense Research and Development Organization, which oversees India's nuclear weapons program. He defended his work by saying that India has been "invaded, invaded, and invaded" for the past 3000 years and that, more recently, the country could not afford to "do tapas" (fold its hands and pray) when its neighbor, Pakistan, developed its own nuclear weapons.
Kalam received his first political lesson when he tried to avoid responding to questions posed at the 35-minute press conference. "Tell me your questions and I will list them in my brain and give you the answers, at one go, later," Kalam said. But that suggestion nearly triggered a riot among the more than 200 journalists, who insisted that he offer up his views on the situation in Kashmir and other current events.
Still, the rocket scientist showed that he was learning fast. Asked about Kashmir, Kalam said, "it is a very sensitive issue" but that since Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee had already commented, "we should not discuss this any further."