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  August 2002

Special Article
Is India’s new President Kalam a practising Muslim? Many Indian Muslim newspapers have doubts

By Qutubuddin Aziz

While congratulating Dr. Abdul Kalam, India’s leading missile and rocket scientist, on becoming India’s new President through the initiative and support of the Hindutva-propagating BJP rulers, one cannot ignore the view of some eminent Indian Muslims and their newspapers that despite his humility, honesty and many other good qualities of head and heart he should not be touted as a truly Muslim President of Hindu-majority India. He retains the Muslim name his parents gave him at the time of his birth in South India but in public, particularly after being inducted into India’s security-clad missile programme, he has, by and large, distanced himself from the practices of Islam.

Writing in the Asian Age newspaper in India (June 19) an eminent Muslim writer and advocate of Muslim causes. Dr. Rafiq Zakaria said: “I am afraid Dr. Kalam has kept himself completely away from Muslims, he refused to mix with them and even, when invited to participate in their nationalistic activities he politely declined. “As Chairman of the All India Khilafat Committee I requested him to be the chief guest at the mammoth Prophet’s Birthday celebrations in Mumbai,which is attended by more than ten lakh Muslims every year but he refused....Likewise, Dr. Ishaq Jamkhanwala, President of the Anjuman-e-lslam, which was founded by the third Congress President, Justice Badruddin Tyabjee, tells me that his invitation to Dr. Kalam to visit the Anjuman to deliver the famous Seerat lecture to pay homage to the Prophet of Islam was turned down by him (Dr. Kalam).He has hardly shown any interest in the affairs of the Muslims nor has he had any affiliation with the practices and conventions of Islam. Dr. Kalam feels much more at ease with the Hindus.”

In the New Delhi-based weekly Radiance, a Muslim journalist Ausaf Said Vasfi wrote on July 6: “Dr. Abdul Kalam goes through a Hindu holy book, the Gita every morning (but not the Quran). Said Vasfi added: “He is sincerely devoted to Krishna (a god in Hindu mythology). He recites the Hindu mantras on every occasion… He is a strict vegetarian ….. His roots are really in Hinduism.”

New Delhi: The All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), in a statement, blamed Home Minister LK Advani for “masterminding” the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat and his “direct involvement” in whatever happened there.

The Association’s delegation, which recently returned to New Delhi after undertaking a 4-day tour of Gujarat and collecting relevant information, said that since Advani represents Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency, he should immediately resign, not only from the Cabinet but also from Parliament.

The Association, in its report, prepared after touring the state and visiting various refugee camps and meeting prominent and common people at different levels, expressed concern over the prolonged violence and said that the lingering riots divide the Gujarat society on communal lines for which Advani is directly responsible. The association announced that it will observe a country-wide protest day against the continuing massacres and violence in the state.

AIPWA also said that by defending Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi during his recent tour of Gujarat, Advani proved that his sympathies are with the rioters and murderers. On the contrary, he should have taken strong punitive action against the culprits and given priority to relief and rehabilitation of the riot-affected people.

AIPWA said Modi did not take the trouble of visiting refugee camps where living conditions are unbearable. Men, women (including old and infirm) and children are stuffed in these camps with no roofs, no privacy, and no satisfactory facilities in the scorching heat.

The association demanded that the first step to even slightly improve the conditions there is to sack Modi immediately. It also demanded that police officers taking part in the riots should be dismissed and punished and police officers belonging to minority communities should be placed on duty in Muslim areas. Relief and rehabilitation work should be undertaken impartially on a war-footing and false cases against innocent people should be immediately withdrawn. Unless these steps are taken by the government, confidence of the affected people cannot be restored, AIPWA report said.

AIPWA members, consisting of its president, Gita Das, general secretary, Suresh Chaudhury and others, were informed in Gujarat that even after three-and-a-half months the affected people have not been given suitable compensation and whatever given for rebuilding houses is insufficient to the extreme. Persons managing the camps have complained that the chief minister has refused further assistance for relief and rehabilitation.

Vasfi,in his Radiance article, quotes Mr. K.Rama Rao, former Director of the Indian Government’s Defence Research and Development Laboratories (DRDI) as follows: “I have known him (Dr. Kalam) for more than three decades. He would stay up late at night, eat vegetarian food and never show any signs of being a Muslim. I have not seen him offering prayers during Namaz nor fast during Ramzan”.

Vasfi argues in his article: “We have no grudge or dispute at all with the President. Many Muslims keep themselves off the Muslim mainstream. What we object to is his projection as “Muslim” President, which is misleading. The Saffron (extremist Hindu rulers) has obliged itself, not Muslims by going for him....He is supposed to dot the I’s and cross the Ts of the Saffron, out to Saffronize plural Bharat.….”

Another Muslim writer, Ubaid-ur Rahman, wrote in the weekly Radiance of July 6: “ Dr. Kalam is a non-political, non-controversial figure; thus there was no opposition to his candidature from the Opposition, except from the Leftist Parties. Earlier, the BJP was projecting P.C. Alexander as its Presidential candidate and was trying to rally its Alliance partners behind him. ....but the BJP failed to muster much support in his favour….”

As the BJP Government in Gujarat State had masterminded the state-wide massacre of Muslims since February this year, its rulers seemingly wanted to apply balm on the bleeding wounds of the Indian Muslims by nominating a Muslim, Dr. Abdul Kalam for India’s Presidency; his Muslim identity was projected extensively by Indian publicists in the Muslim, especially Arab countries. Under the Indian Constitution, the President of India holds an almost ceremonial office with hardly any executive powers. Thus President Abdul Kalam would rubber-stamp the decisions and orders of the BJP-led federal Government, Pakistan is obviously the main target of the Kalam-designed missiles in India’s burgeoning arsenals; this is what pleases the BJP’s “Saffron Brigade” which wants to turn India into a massively strong nuclear power with ICBM’s capable of hitting any target in the world. Some analysts of the Indian scene opine that as Dr. Kalam knows more about the destructive power of atom bombs and long-range missiles with nuclear payloads he may advise his Hindutva-loving promoters to desist from unleashing a nuclear holocaust on this populous and poverty-ridden Subcontinent of more than 1250 million people. Pakistan’s President Musharraf sent President Kalam a friendly message of greetings and good wishes when he assumed India’ s Presidential reins. In recent weeks some Indian newspapers have published reports that India’s Prithvi missile (deployed on Pakistan’s borders) is in some ways inferior to the Pakistani missiles such as Hatf, Ghouri and Shaheen because the Prithvi uses liquid fuel while the Pakistani missiles are based on solid fuels. Solid fuels in missiles improve their accuracy and operational efficiency during flight. Pakistani missile experts say that Pakistani missiles can now target any place in India and this capability enhances Pakistan’s deterrence powers against territorial predators.

Dr. Kalam’s autobiography, “Wings of fire”, makes fascinating reading and shows the determination, will power and intelligence which made Dr. A Kalam one of the most famous missiles scientists in Asia. In his autobiography, Dr. Kalam refers to the rockets built by Tipu Sultan, the Muslim ruler of Myssore state in the 1790s. According to the “Wings of fire”, when Tipu Sultan was killed by the British in a battle in 1799, they seized more than 700 rockets made under Tipu Sultan’s orders and they were taken to England. Some of Tipu Sultan’s rockets of the 1799 are preserved in a British military museum in Greenwich, near London.