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Fitting tribute to India’s Abdul Kalam

Fitting tribute to India’s Abdul Kalam

WHILE the ugly controversy over re-naming Aurangzeb Road in the heart of New Delhi continues to rage, the Odisha government has done well to re-designate Wheeler Island after the rocket scientist who blazed a trail from Rameshwaram to Rashtrapati Bhawan.

For it was Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who had persuaded the “towering” Biju Patnaik (two-time chief minister of Odisha) to transfer the small island to the defence establishment in 1993. When seeking a “target” for testing the surface-to-surface Prithvi missile Dr Kalam had zeroed-in on the uninhabited island which was marked on only very detailed maps.

The creation of a site from where missiles could be test-launched is a little heralded “collateral success” of the missile development programme Dr Kalam spearheaded — hence naming the island after him has personal, scientific and national relevance.

Not much is known of the British lieutenant after whom the island was originally named, he could possibly be the man who surveyed it — if the names of some places in the Andaman & Nicobar islands, or indeed the world’s highest peak, serve as a guideline.

Some purists, in principle, are opposed to any re-naming, yet this way of honouring Dr Kalam is to be appreciated — it is no case of attempting to “score” by riding on a popular bandwagon, just putting the small island into deserving perspective. Unlike some other regional leaders, Naveen Patnaik does not overdo the self-projection, the community of defence scientists will laud the gesture.

Regretfully, the move by the New Delhi Municipal Council reeks of political and communal underpinnings. Though the NDMC is officially a non-political body the road “selected” for re-designation has been picked for dubious reasons.

The saffron brigade in its petty quest to re-write history has consistently painted the Mughal emperor in poor light, but his place in history will not be obliterated by merely removing a signboard in Lutyens’ luxury enclave. Not only does that move create scope for much such abhorrent action, it actually insults the memory of Dr Kalam.

There is a false ring to the specious bid to replace one Muslim name with another — the scientist-president was much too “large” a man to be inserted into any religious slot, he belonged to the Indian nation and not just one of its communities — something that is seldom appreciated by today’s political figures.

As for re-naming per se, it is a malaise that has afflicted leaders across the board. Happily, it does not always “convince” the common folk. Remember that “Rajiv Chowk” is used only in the context of the metro station, and Connaught Place still holds its own, even if it is now “trendy” to call it CP.

—By arrangement with Asia News Network-The Statesman/India

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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