The buzz around the stately but run-down auditorium of Sapru House was that President APJ Abdul Kalam, a rocket scientist, would speak about the Indo-US nuclear deal. Instead, on Wednesday, the President talked of the need to keep the peace in outer space where India has a lot of satellites.
"Above all we have to keep peace in space," Kalam told former Indian diplomats, as he laid out his vision of how to make diplomacy relevant to the requirements of the country.
"Diplomacy is a dynamic process. In future we may also move towards getting material from Moon and creation of habitat in Mars. Our diplomacy should see that war is not extended to space."
China recently launched an anti-satellite missile, which has worried the global and Indian security establishment, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to recently say, "we are not in favour of weaponisation of outer space."
Kalam also spoke of his initiative to use India's "core competence" in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to set up a Pan-African e-network.
"Based on my study of the communication, healthcare and education needs of the African countries, I proposed the concept of Pan African e-Network for providing seamless and integrated satellite, fiber optics and wireless network connecting 53 African countries," he said.
According to western diplomats present at the lecture, holding up cooperation with Africa as an example was interesting particularly in the context of Chinese President Hu Jintao's ongoing eight-nation tour of Africa. With Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhao Xing due to visit New Delhi at the end of the week, the suggestion was that the President was sending a message to the Chinese government. Li is coming for the trilateral India-Russia-China meeting.
It was Kalam's first address to the Association of Indian Diplomats (AID), a forum of retired senior Indian diplomats, who seek to project themselves as a think tank. The AID's annual lecture, under the aegis of the Indian Council of World Affairs, the think tank of the Ministry of External Affairs attracted a full house, with foreign diplomats rubbing shoulders with retired and serving Indian diplomats.
The President, who extolled the Indo-Russian collaborative missile system, 'Brahmos', also mooted setting up a single window clearance mechanism for foreign investment in the country. He said the absence of such a system could have prevented greater investments that would have accelerated India's economic growth. To gauge India's economic growth, he urged policy makers to take into account what he called the "national prosperity index" along with the GDP growth rate.