The tireless talker and dreamer!

There was this news item in several newspapers of Mumbai but not in The Hindu. It was about our President Abdul Kalam participating in a media interaction outside the Rashtrapathi Bhavan at the New Delhi luxury hotel, Taj Palace.The theme was ‘empowering’ India. While different newspapers give different versions, we have no way to check the exact proceedings. One noted columnist, namely Ms Tavleen Singh has given an account and that is the basis of this editorial. Even otherwise, we read elsewhere that the President along with one noted senior scientist is said to have expressed his desire to give at least one lakh lectures! Already the President is said to have completed 50,000 lectures! Fantastic.

The President is a great favourite of the Indian school children and he loves to interact with them and share with them his dreams and visions for India. A developed India by the year 2020.

The President is rated as the most popular President so far, a peoples’ President. Writes Ms Singh: “No Indian city is as removed from the realities of India as New Delhi is”. “I was reminded this truth when last week I went to listen to the President of India at an Indian Express arranged interaction.” To listen to the President we gathered early. Security is always a nightmare. After being metal-detected, body-searched and having bags checked for dangerous objects and mobile phones tested for bombs we waited for an hour for the man many regarded as the most popular President ever. which is why it came as a surprise that he should be as far removed from the realities of India as the Viceroy may once have been”.

“Societal grid consists of Knowledge Grid interconnecting universities with socio-economic institutions, industries and R&D organisations; Health Care Grid, inter-connecting the health care institutions of government, corporate and super specialty hospitals, research institutions, educational institutions and pharma R&D institutions; E Governance Grid, inter-connecting the central government and state governments and district and block level offices..”

“It was not President A P J Abdul Kalam’s confused jargon that was disconcerting so much as his total disconnect with Indian realities. Is he aware that computers need electricity to work them? Is he aware that the average Indian is lucky if he can get a couple of hours of electricity a day?”

“The President talked of ‘virtual universities’ and ‘Tele-medicine’ as if he were living in some advanced countries. And when at the end of his Alice in the Wonderland address some members in the audience tried asking his real questions he brushed them away. A doctor raise to point out that Tele-medicine could hardly be a replacement for basic healthcare amenities he launched into a convoluted description of his ‘health grid’.

“In the audience were the parents of Manjunath who was murdered for his honesty in the petrol pump owners, what chance for honesty in our country? The President seemed not to have noticed the then just current news of our MPs taking bribes or the contracts they gave from their funds, the President seemed to have said” Corruption was a problem but we must not let the problem became our captain of our lives!”

After finishing the interactive session, the President drove off in his cavalcade of limousines and I set off towards Haryana. I drove past Gurgaon and then suddenly the landscape changed. Villages, dirty roads, barefoot children, slums, though Haryana is one of India’s rich states. “The landscape I describe is less than fifty kilometres of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. I recommend that before the ‘people’s President’ makes his next speech about empowering India he take a short drive without his cavalcade.He would discover neither rural India nor urban India are ready for his wondrous plans”.

The point is that any vision is sketchy. Kalam’s vision too is very sketchy only we need to be inspired by his vision for taking India towards a developed status. But Kalam is not a social scientist or a thinker in the humanities tradition of knowledge seeking or thinking things out in some in-depth way. So too our academic Prime Minister whose language at best is academic, not a Prime Ministerial inspiration.

Nor for that matter the need for intellectuals to fill the gap in our current articulations towards a new idealism, a new ideology of building a self-sustaining mature democratic society is left to those in power. The very offices of the President and Prime Minister are also constraints for loud thinking. It is the sphere of the public domain where the free thinking individuals, free press and much else, including the sting operations of the TV and other media have to perform their legitimate duties! Poverty is a historic legacy for India.

“The President used a computer to give us a power point presentation of his idea of an empowered India which would be a knowledge society linked by the ‘grids’ of knowledge, e-governance and society with the eagerness of Alice in the Wonderland to a small sample”


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