While foreign office mandarins were a little apprehensive about the meeting between APJ Abdul Kalam and Pervez Musharraf, the scientist President turned out to be an astute diplomat giving no opportunity to the Pakistani military ruler to rake up the Kashmir issue.
Details of what transpired at the 30-minute meeting have been revealed by PM Nair, who served as Secretary to Kalam from 2002 to 2007, in his book The Kalam Effect: My years with the President.<b1>
Musharraf was on a day's visit on April 17, 2005 to witness the India-Pakistan one-day cricket match. During his brief stay, one of his appointments was with Kalam.
Nair says he told the President ahead of the meeting that Musharraf will certainly raise the Kashmir issue with him and he should be prepared for the same.
"Don't worry, I shall deal with it," Kalam said reassuringly, leaving Nair wondering how he would deal with an issue which could nettle the best of diplomats, and had derailed the summit meeting at Agra.
In excerpts of the book made available to PTI, Nair says the meeting took after an eventful day in which the Pakistanis won the match. Musharraf's remark about MS Dhoni's long hair had drawn loud applause from cricket enthusiasts.
At 7.30 pm, Musharraf arrived in a cavalcade of cars and was led to the North Drawing Room on the first floor of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Kalam ushered Musharraf to a seat and sat next to him. The Indian and Pakistani officials occupied their appointed places.
After pleasantries were exchanged, Kalam began "Mr President, like India you also have a lot of rural areas" and then put a poser. "Don't you think we should both do whatever is possible to develop them on priority?
"Yes", said Musharraf. Without wasting time, Kalam got down to explaining one of his favourite subjects.
"Mr President, I will tell you something about PURA very briefly. PURA means Providing Urban Facilities in Rural Areas", Kalam told the General.
As if on cue, a plasma screen came alive and the description of what PURA was and what it could achieve lasted 26 minutes.
Musharraf evinced keen interest and when it was over, smiled and said, "Thank you, Mr President. India is lucky to have a scientist President like you". Hand shakes followed and both leaders bid adieu.
Kalam once received a letter from a poor person hailing from a village in Pune district, highlighting the acute financial difficulties being faced by his family.
The writer went on to say that he had knocked the doors of the district authorities, MLAs, MPs, Ministers and also written to the Centre for immediate help but nothing was forthcoming. If the President too did not help him, the family would commit suicide, he said.
The President was told that if he started dealing with such cases, there would be no end to it. This did not satisfy Kalam, recounts Nair.
Kalam was prepared to give the family some money from his personal account so that they do not resort to any extreme step.
Nair said he advised the President not to do that telling him that the Collector in that area would be asked to look into the problem. Some help was extended to the family.
However, word quickly spread first in that village, then in the district, in the state and finally all over the country that if you had any problem, you could write to the President.
Kalam's mailbox swelled out of proportion and stretched the Rashtrapati Bhavan staff. The new strategy adopted by many was to pour out their problems, real or imaginary and seek immediate intervention by him, failing which they all threatened to commit suicide. Some said they would resort to the extreme step in front of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Taking all these letters seriously, Kalam made it clear to his staff that they were all there to solve the people's problems and there was no shortcutting that process.