Ex-president mourned across India

Indian schoolchildren holding up a portrait of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as they paid tribute to him in Jammu, India, yesterday.
Indian schoolchildren holding up a portrait of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as they paid tribute to him in Jammu, India, yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Death of father of its missile project spurs tributes from all ideological camps

NEW DELHI • India paid tribute to former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, well-known as the father of the country's missile programme, at his residence on Tuesday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country's main opposition Congress party's chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, were among the top politicians who paid tribute to Dr Kalam.

His body has been kept at his residence in the Indian capital for people to pay their last respects to the "People's President", also known as "India's Missile Man". Dr Kalam's funeral is due to take place tomorrow in his home town of Rameswaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where he was born.

Earlier in the day, his body was received by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Mr Modi at Palam airport in New Delhi, where it was brought from the north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

Dr Kalam, India's 11th president - from 2002 to 2007 - died of cardiac arrest during a lecture at a management institute in Meghalaya's capital Shillong, at the age of 83, late on Monday evening.

PEOPLE PERSON

Dr Kalam enjoyed being with people; people and youngsters adored him. He loved students and spent his final moments among them.

MR NARENDRA MODI, Indian Prime Minister, on former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Delhi has declared seven days of national mourning as a mark of respect. Parliament will also remain closed till tomorrow. His death brought an outpouring of mourning on Monday from across the ideological spectrum at a time of intense political polarisation in India.

Dr Kalam, who was born to a poor Muslim family and fought against all odds to complete his degrees in physics and aerospace engineering, played a key role in India's Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. A practising Muslim, he involved himself in the country's broader culture, studying Indian classical music and, a biographer said, committing to memory sections of the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's most sacred texts.

Dr Kalam's speeches were ebulliently motivational. "We must think and act like a nation of a billion people, not like that of a million people," he once said.

Mr Modi wrote on Twitter: "(He) enjoyed being with people; people and youngsters adored him. He loved students and spent his final moments among them."

A similar tribute to Dr Kalam came from Mr P. Chidambaram, a prominent leader in the Indian National Congress and critic of the current government. "In recent history, only a few had endeared themselves to the young and old, poor and rich, and to people belonging to different faiths," he wrote.

XINHUA, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Ex-president mourned across India'. Print Edition | Subscribe