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Let’s not tarnish the legacy of Kalam, the People’s President

The ungainly row over the placement of the Bhagavad Gita at APJ Abdul Kalam’s memorial in Rameswaram is unnecessary and does great disservice to his syncretic legacy

analysis Updated: Jul 31, 2017 14:34 IST
Aasheesh Sharma
Aasheesh Sharma
Hindustan Times
APJ Abdul Kalam,Vaiko,MDMK
Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his memorial in Rameswaram on his second death anniversary, an ungainly controversy appears to be have erupted over the placement of an engraved Bhagvad Gita next to a wooden statue of former president APJ Abdul Kalam.(PTI)

Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his memorial in Rameswaram on his second death anniversary, an ugly controversy appears to be have erupted over the placement of an engraved Bhagvad Gita next to a wooden statue of former president APJ Abdul Kalam. Initially, MDMK chief Vaiko cried foul over what he perceived as a Hindutva agenda in the Gita getting prime place near the statue. Subsequently, state Congress president S. Thirunavukkarasar joined cause with Vaiko, calling it the BJP’s attempt to appropriate the legacy of the ‘People’s President.’

To nip the controversy in the bud, Kalam’s grandnephew Sheik Saleem responded by placing a copy of the Quran and the Bible near the statue. He’ll also place a copy of Tamil treatise Thirukkural near the statue soon. But it wasn’t the end of the row. Now, K Prabhakaran leader of the fringe group Hindu Makkal Katchi has filed a police complaint claiming that the Quran and Bible were placed at the memorial without the permission of the authorities.

One of the most popular presidents to have assumed the highest office, Kalam’s elevation to the post of India’s 11th President was an acknowledgement of his contribution to the nation as an ace scientist and missile technologist. Unlike Dr Zakir Husain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the first two Muslim presidents, his progressive views on Islamic liberalism were known. Kalam was reluctant to embrace dogmas and as fond of reading the Bhagavad Gita, as he was of the Quran, Bible and Thirukkural (a compendium of sacred verses in Tamil). Even during his lifetime, doubts were cast over his reluctance to observe religious rituals and the BJP’s propensity to portray his ascent as a certificate for their brand of secularism, as was evident in an article headlined ‘What’s Muslim about Abdul Kalam?’ by Rafiq Zakaria.

In one of his books, Kalam reminisced about leading a truly syncretic childhood in Rameswaram, where, as a 10-year-old, he was witness to conversations over tea between Pakshi Lakshmana Shastrigal, head priest of the Rameswaram temple, Reverend Father Bodal, who built the first church on Rameswaram Island and his father, who was an imam in a mosque.

Clearly, the penchant of selfish politicians to appropriate the legacy of the ‘people’s President’ hasn’t reduced even after his death. It is time people recognised these attempts to besmirch Kalam’s secular legacy. Playing politics at a memorial designed by the DRDO will be doing disservice to the memory of one of the most popular Presidents in the history of the country. Role models such as Kalam, who rose from poverty to promote scientific temper and the value of hard work and education, inspire people from all walks of life irrespective of their religious and political views. Let’s not sully the legacy of a brilliant mind with petty religious politics.

@Aasheesh74

First Published: Jul 31, 2017 14:30 IST