Goodbye Dr Abdul ‘Strangelove’ Kalam: Satya Sagar


They say one should not speak ill of the dead. And yet I propose to do precisely that about Dr Abdul Kalam, the `Austere, Hardworking, Diligent’ and now recently departed ‘Missile Man’.

I am willing to break convention on this occasion for several reasons.

The first one is a very simple and practical one. I have always found it very safe to speak ill of the dead. For, not only do dead men ‘tell no tales’, they also ‘pull no triggers’. And since neither me nor Dr Kalam (as far as I know) have ever believed in ghosts I doubt he is coming back to haunt my house anytime soon.

Secondly, I find it difficult to subscribe to the popular media fiction that Dr Kalam rose from a modest background to the highest positions in the country merely through dint of learning, commitment and a burning passion for great achievements in his heart. While there are many good, sincere, hard-working scientists in the variousinstitutions Dr Kalam was part of,mostof themwill not rise to any big administrative or political positions as only afew know howto play the game of ‘patriotism’ to promote their own careers.

Yes, as has been suggested by at least a few other commentators in the past[1] Kalam, despite the mediocre performance of the institution or missions he headed, rose to the top mainly because of his enthusiastic advocacy of making India a ‘superpower’ – matching the public rhetoric of his political masters. Whether the missiles he helped develop fly anywhere in reality or not the myths surrounding the endeavour certainly have been sufficient to carry him to lofty heights.  As for the  goal of becoming a truly developed nation, the fact is that India, remains even today a very poor, Third World country hiding behind shining weapons of dubious quality – like a beggar waving a fake pistol.

Thirdly, to eulogize Dr Kalam as a ‘People’s President’ is disingenuous as his enthusiastic role in developing the Indian nuclear and missile programs was always part of the deadly arms race with Pakistan or China, one that threatens some day to be the nemesis of the entire subcontinent. In a region with the world’s largest number of poor, malnourished citizens –denied even basic needs like food, healthcare or safe drinking water – to prioritizeprecious resources to development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is not exactly ‘people friendly’.

Ironically, one of Dr Kalam’s great regrets in life apparently was that he could not organise the provision of 24 hour power supply to hisparents in Rameshwaram before they died[2]! For a man who constantly exhorted everyone to uphold their ‘mother, father and teacher’ it was indeed strange he spent much of his life trying to do everything except solve the basic problems of the poor family he came from or the millions of other such families in the country.

And lastly, I am a bit upset with the way Dr Kalam, finally left Planet Earth – not on the frontlines of the imaginary or real battlefields he built all his bombs and missiles for butin the safe confines of a lecture hall in Shillong delivering a pious sermon on ‘youth empowerment’ and ‘innovation’. Of course, bydying in this way Dr Kalam maintained a golden rule of our age– that, men of science and technology are never supposed to meet their end in any actual war anywhere- whatever their personal contribution to its lethality and loss of life. (Formal degrees in science and engineering, may well be among the most potent antidotes to violent death for those who hold them.)

Which brings me to the larger story of how in country after country around the globe today  ‘scientists’ like Dr Kalam have become public icons – largely because of their willingness to promote the militarist fantasies of ruling elites – irrespective of the human costs involved. While peace activists and common citizens often rail against politicians, generals, capitalists, lobbyists and journalists for profiting from war, ‘scientists’ – the people who make modern warfare so deadly – are too often spared much scrutiny. Shielded as they are by rings of charming adjectives like ‘Austere, Hardworking, Diligent’it is technocrats like Dr Kalam, who are the real brains behind both the making and unmaking of all the world’s WMDs.

For tell me, how does any country anywhere-whether it is the United States, Iraq, India or Pakistan- acquire a WMD without the voluntary contribution of scientists, engineers and technicians of all kinds to the production of these demonic devices? Away from the dreaded ‘spotlight’ there are thousands of them all over the world today, feverishly working on the concept and design of an entire arsenal of diabolical products – that range from ethno-bombs that targets victims according to their race to the so called `army ants ‘- small, almost invisible nanotech robots that can be sent to assassinate political opponents, dissidents and the usual ‘terrorists’.

Of course, this is not a new story at all. The story of science without moral or social scruples is as old as the history ofhuman knowledge itself. But never has specialized technical knowledge been as decisive an influence on warfare as in the past few hundred years.

Was not all of European colonialism underpinned by their ‘superior’ science, technology and ways of organization? The rise of modern science and that of the imperial West are tightly entwined trends in modern history. And this terrible collaboration between ‘men of knowledge’ and ruling elites continues globally, even in countries like India and Pakistan, which were themselves victims of brutal colonisation in the past.

This is because; in modern times, the ability to master and apply science or technology to warfare is what decides the difference between colonizers and the colonized, victors and victims. For what otherwise accounts for the varying fates of a George Bush Jr. versus Saddam Hussein or an Obama versus Osama other than the quality of scientists and engineers at their command?Aware of this source of power, many developing countries in the world today seek to acquire WMDs with the help of theirown scientific/engineering community – if nothing else – to be able to ‘bargain’ with the big guys out there.

Over the years, the role of science in the crimes of war and the creation of WMDs has not gone unquestioned or unchallenged. At least since the Jewish Holocaust and the nuclear horrors of Hiroshima the debate has been – to what extent do scientists bear responsibility for the casualties of war? Were not the German engineers who designed and constructed the gas chambers as guilty as a Hitler who ordered the killing of Jews in them?

There have also been courageous members of the scientific or engineering profession, who have rallied for a safer and better world- horrified by their own powers of destruction. The campaigns for nuclear disarmament, the opposition to development of biological and chemical weapons – all have seen concerned scientists speak out and call for change. And yet these brave souls are but a minority. A majority of scientific personnel today are involved in research on products that could well destroy our planet forever.Worse still, despite the often disastrous implications of their work, everywhere the scientific community continues to enjoy both high privilege and access to national resources way beyond proportioneverywhere.

So how exactly does any scientist end up working on the development or construction of a WMD? What really motivates these fellows? Are such scientists exceptions or is it the case that WMDs are the product of very normal and routine activity undertaken by vast numbers of scientists – who simply don’t care about the social consequences of what they produce?

To my mind there are three broad reasons why scientists have become so implicated today in the global military-corporate complex and the pursuit of WMDs.

As always the first reason is money. World military expenditure in 2014 was an estimated US$1776 billion, equivalent to 2.3 per cent of world GDP[3]. The global war industry is where the big bucks really are. And since, despite their playing God, scientists too have all the weaknesses of flesh and blood human beings- they end up selling their souls to the service of the highest bidder.

Even scientists who are not directly employed by the war industry contribute to it through their work for large corporations that market their products wherever the money comes from. If it sells well in the civilian, commercial sector well and good. But if the same product can be sold to mass murderers – too bad- that’s how the market economy works.

Many scientists like to pretend that they have nothing to do with the death and destruction of war as they are only pursuing ‘knowledge’ in a disinterested way. The fact is they have become willing spinners in the deadly web of vested corporate/state interests that seeks to profit from the destruction of our planet.

For those from the science and engineering professions not particularly interested in making money, the lure is often in the form of power and status.

No politician after all can put together a nuclear bomb on his/her own whatever the degree of jingoist patriotism they spout in public. A politician can order a WMD to be made, a general can deploy it and a banker can finance it but without the active cooperation of these ‘men of knowledge’ it is impossible to get one that actually works.

Unlike workers in an arms factory, who may be there for earning a basic livelihood, the highly educated and supposedly clever scientist or engineer also chooses to develop WMDs for reasons that have nothing to do with feeding his/her family.

The history of the Indian nuclear program is a good example of how the politics of the WMD industry works vis a vis the scientific community. It may not be very well known that in the early seventies when India tested its first nuclear bomb- the event was really the result of intense rivalries within the Indian nuclear establishment over resources, prestige, power and political clout.

Promising the bomb to politicians was simply a means that ambitious scientists like Homi Sethna or Raja Ramanna found for boosting their own importance in national affairs, getting scarce resources allocated to the nuclear industry and getting their own careers going upwards. (They were the real mentors of Dr Abdul Kalam and not whom he used to claim as his ‘gurus’ – Dr Vikram Sarabhai or Dr Satish Dhawan- who were both strongly opposed to the weaponsiation of the space and nuclear sectors)

In this process it is the scientist/engineer who emerges as the most despicable and dangerous political player of our age- hidden from public view and immune to all human laws.In that sense, technocrats like Dr Kalam, are the real ‘establishment’ in most modern nation-states often wielding more influence and commanding more respect thanpoliticians, army generals, media moghuls or even moneybag capitalists.

For those few scientists/engineers who are not after money, power or status – (like Dr Kalam ‘the bachelor’ perhaps) the ultimate dream is that of achieving ‘sainthood’ – to be loved and revered as great ‘achievers’, men of knowledge and wisdom.It suits them well that for many members of the public the image of the ‘scientist’ is by and large that of a gentle, noble soul, immersed in ‘seeking the Truth’. Despite their crucial role in bringing the world to the brink of annihilation with their WMDs the association of the scientific community with a Dr No or a Dr Strangelove is still largely an aberration in the public imagination.

A great ‘teacher’ and ‘man of knowledge’ – that’s what the media tells us Dr Kalam was – almost a rishistraight from the annals of Indian mythology. These are key phrases worth examining closely. Ever since the European Enlightenment ‘scientists’ have displaced the medieval clergy as our globe’s official ‘seekers of truth’ and become the new theologians of our times. Nobody else comes anywhere close in competition. Nothing can pass muster in our age without being certified ‘scientific’. For too long now the stamp of science has become the primary sales pitch of everyone from millenarian messiahs to multinational junk food vendors.

It is indeed true that there are many of those with an insatiable quest for the ‘knowledge’ and moved by the notion that disinterested pursuit of science purifies and liberates the soul. A vast number of scientists involved, even in the war industry, probably see themselves as professional ‘seekers of truth’ about the world we live in – with the consequences of their ‘discoveries’ to be blamed on less noble creatures from other professions.

But ‘seeker of truth’ is simplya pompous title for the world’s scientists, engineers and technocrats today irrespective of the technological spectacles that they have managed to trot out in front of the masses. How broad really is the scope of the so called ‘truth’ the scientist is supposed to be seeking and are there not more than one ‘truth’ associated with every phenomenon?

Is it not pretentious to call the solving of narrow technical puzzles- like how to fire a WMD at your neighbouring country- the very ‘pursuit of truth’? Can the ‘scientific’ truth about the flight path of a missile, themanipulation of our genes and the composition of killer chemicals be equated to the social or moral truth of a child running, burning at the end of a napalm raid in the Vietnam war? How far are these puzzles of science really from the puddles of blood they often end up creating? When will the scientists of the world take responsibility for their role in the devastation and indeed genocide carried out with the use of their knowledge?

It is becoming increasingly clear that just as politics is too important to be left to politicians scienceand its consequences should not be left to scientists alone. For scientists are no longer the innocent amateur astronomers of yore who fell into wells while gazing at the stars nor are most of them carrying out research for the betterment of humankind. And certainly today they are also no Galileos who suffer for courageously challenging the prejudices of those in power.

Instead, they have become the brainpower behind the workings of the modern nation-state, the military-industrial complex and an unjust global financial architecture. Surely, if M.K.Gandhi had still been around he would have surely renamed Dr Kalam- despite the latter’s vegetarianism- nothing less thanMr ‘Kalamity’.

Satya Sagar is a public health worker and journalist who can be reached at




35 thoughts on “Goodbye Dr Abdul ‘Strangelove’ Kalam: Satya Sagar”

  1. do get the point of scientist-militia joint ventures in a state fascinated by technology. Pass that I have believed that not everyone who designs missiles has an evil soul. I understand the notion of “development and youth” being linked a thousand times at various public- political forums inciting the dreams of nationalism.
    Apart from Dr. Kalam,I am still in search for a person in the recent history of India’s political “fiefdom freedom” who had some kind of common sense and logic. That to find in the politically staged institutions is rare.


    1. But what is evil, really? The author, when talking about scientists taking responsibility for casualties, touches on the idea of “the banality of evil”. It’s very interesting to read about & basically rethinks what moral responsibility is, trying to say that people shouldn’t be excused from the consequences of their actions if they didn’t pull the trigger themselves but simply made the gun.


  2. Dear Satya Sagar,

    Thank you for writing such an important piece because it presents critique to the view presented by the media. The crux of your argument seems to be: it would do us good if were to look at scientists not as saints but as those who are deeply embedded with the nation-state project.

    Scientists, you claim, are those men who pursue eternal celebrityhood, are not critically examined by the media, have developed weapons which could destroy the world many times over, have accessed scare resources to develop weapons of mass destruction.

    I believe war is a vain project under any circumstances but many does not view vanity as a vice.

    But in a third world context like India, I am sure you’d would have loved it if the state had developed total sanitation systems in 500 cities with the money it had invested in nuclear industry!

    Truth be told almost half a million die of malaria every year, and about 1.24 million die in road accidents every year. The point being it is the humble mosquito and a man behind a car which kills more people in a year, for a fact. That to me is the real horror than some war, and no one knows why legislators do not channel public funding towards these projects.

    I agree with all your claims but I find your representation of the work of scientists problematic because it essentialises the relationship between science, scientists, state and war.

    I wonder could it not be argued equally persuasively had it not been for the military industrial complex our every-day lives would not have been the same.

    The truth which military scientists pursue is specific in nature and often pertains to particular aspect of technological project, its tradition and viability.

    But just imagine had it not been for war, for all those merciless, useless, ruthless, cold-blooded killings for stupid reasons the internet would not have been there, the radio, GPS, fridge, micro-wave, shaving razor, aviators, rubber, the jeep, telegraphy, anti-biotics like penicillin, radar, nylon, synthetics, canned food, wrist watch, programmable computer, duct tape and so many hundreds of thousands other products which gives a better, an improved experience of living would not have been there.

    Would you say that these technologies, these improvements which were an effect of some mindless war effort of some crazy nation state have made the life of humans less bearable or rather more enjoyable?

    As far as I am concerned I really do not know whether war is good or bad, whether Kalam was a self-seeking, or self-less. Sure I recognise the horror of what science and particularly technology can unleash on human beings but at the same time I cannot ignore the benefits of war technology in my everyday life.

    To be really honest in a sad sort of a way I feel grateful towards the cold war, because it had allowed you to use the technology of internet, a product of cold war paranoia, to write your thoughts and to me to respond to them. I feel thankful towards all doctor Strageloves, don’t you?


  3. Interesting. While I am reluctant to comment on the opinion expressed by the author on Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, I am sure amused by the importance ascribed to scientists in general. In reality most scientists earn a modest living by working hard most of their lives. They are no comparison to doctors, lawyers or business executives, or even low caliber computer scientists who are paid a lot more. The science managers do somewhat better, and India is no exception. Please look at the made-in-India scientists, such as CV Raman, KS Krishnan, SN Bose, MN Saha etc. What WMDs they developed? Mr Kalam may not be of the same stature in science, but he was sure made-in-India, and did well as a manager. But made-in-West scientists (do not wish to name) have done even far better in India. I have also observed that the poor in most scientifically advanced nations live far better than the backward ones. The one exception that I found was ex-Soviet Union where abject poverty existed in parallel to the capability of piling WMDs. Should one believe that India would have served its poor better if it remained scientifically far more backward than what it is now? If we look at the world around, and remember the food scarcity of early sixties and international humiliation on that account, one may find it difficult to take the author’s thesis too seriously.


  4. Summed up perfectly. I have been wondering about the reasons for all the praise heaped upon him. Can’t figure out any of them yet.
    I was disappointed to see reporters like Ravish dedicating prime time to discuss him. Not that discussion about an individual is not important but almost making him a deity in the process if a bit far fetched.
    Off course speaking ill few hours after Dr. Kalam died is something not anyone would do. But watching people sing peans about him for an hour was disappointing.


  5. Agree, he was not perfect. Not even close to being perfect. I was under the impression that Presidents are sitting ducks. So did not have high hopes for him in that position beyond getting his words out in the form of speeches.

    But he did make his mark as a man of science. I am a scientist and admire him. His words inspire me during tough times. Its a hard and lonely life. We cling on to any source we can to believe we can make it. I think that is what makes religion pretty popular too.


  6. Completely agree with Satya Sagar. I wish more people in their own little way spread these ideas.


  7. We had a story in Panch Tantra where four learned pundits who proudly wanted to demonstrate how they can bring back a dead animal to life, and they demonstrated it on a lion in spite of their uneducated brother telling them not to do so. Intoxication by power of science and fame makes person blind to see what the end result is.


    1. Pleasing that you cite Panch Tantra, to support Mr Sagar, but the moral of the story is quite different. It simply warns that very high education and leaning devoid of common sense can be disastrous. It has nothing to do with power and fame. But there is another story of four well read pundits without an understanding of the society (api shashtersu kushalaa lokachar vivarjita–) . Whenever in doubt, they consulted their books and misinterpreted the guiding principles, and ultimately perished. Please read Mr Sagar’s blog in the light of these two Panch Tantra stories and examine if he, a pundit here, is not misinterpreting the role of scientists in general and Mr Kalam in particular.


  8. Why let rhetoric come in the way of facts?

    APJAK’s original claim to fame wasnt any missile or WMD, but the pathbreaking SLV3 launch vehicle. This was the essential building block to India’s rocket programme that today launches weather, communication and earth observation satellites by their dozens – most of which go towards serving the “poor”. And no, despite what assorted idiots might say, a satellite launch vehicle isnt the building block to a missile.

    Now about the missiles/WMD bit. Given that we can do absolutely nothing to prevent either China or Pak from developing the same (in fact both did, including PAk that had a working bomb before we did), what is it that India should do? Turn the other cheek in the face of nuclear threats? Give up J&K? Give up Arunachal PRadesh? While we are at it, maybe give up a few more slices of the NE? People like APJAK didnt spend hours in philosophsing about world peace. They dirtied their hands in making sure that India made the best of the bad neighbourhood that we have. At least as good as we could.

    The most tricky bits of the article is towards the begining – the snide insinuations around the “quality” of the missiles. The author might want to study the ORBAT of our Strategic Forces Command to get some more insights.

    Philosophising on world peace is much easier than getting down to make things better incrementally. “Journalists” have it easy!


    1. No, we have to build up international opinion where common people of all countries oppose the production of WMD. Historically wars were and are fought for the benifitt of rulers and rich. Kings got their palace bigger. And today ruling class gets benefits of war. It is the common people who suffer during the war, in its aftermath and have no stake in the material gains later on. Some Journalists at least help in bring out the alternative opinion when loud voices of vested interests instigate people all around. At least for the sake of preserving environment and thereby life let us start raising voice against these destructive ideas.


    2. This is the problem with the Indian left today. It is so steeped in ideology that it has completely forgotten the realities of geopolitics. In an ideal world, I’d have completely opposed nuclear weapons. But do we live in an ideal world?


    3. Excellent response. Articles like these (a rambling essay based on emotion and rhetoric rather than facts) serve no purpose, other than getting a cheer from those who share the same opinions.

      To the author of the article: Leave out the snide, snarky comments and present matter of fact, logical arguments supporting your views. At the least, it might initiate a meaningful dialogue.


    4. The real focus of my article was the lack of scruples about working on weapons of mass destruction within the community of scientists – not just in India but around the world. Dr Kalam is no different from a Dr A.Q.Khan in Pakistan – upheld in his country as a great ‘hero’ for stealing technology from western sources and developing a nuclear weapons program. Neither Kalam nor Khan had any particular compunction in putting the means of killing millions of people in the hands of the political leaders of their respective countries. And given the venality of politicians in the subcontinent in general this is nothing less than an act of either complete idiocy on the part of these two ‘scientists’ or an act of cynical manipulation of the situation for personal career building – or maybe a bit of both.

      As for the Indian space program’s record of serving the needs of the poor in the country the less said the better. When the Asian tsunami struck in 2004 all their showpiece satellites were of no use in warning populations living all along the Tamil Nadu coast resulting in the needless deaths of over 10,000 poor fisherfolk. This is despite a lead time of a full two hours between the time the earthquake hit Aceh in Indonesia and when the wall of sea water it threw up finally reached the Indian coast. Like the Indian nuclear program, that has hardly produced any electricity in all these years, the Indian space program too, is meant only to serve the vanity of India’s rulers and their pretence of being a superpower – or titillate the middle-classes by beaming silly soap operas into their drawing rooms. Serving the poor is simply not a priority or India would not be home to the largest number of people in absolute poverty in the world even seven decades after Independence.

      National security, unlike what the Indian elite and their cheerleaders tell us, cannot be just about having big, shining weapons in a world where such deadly toys are getting easier to develop or procure- even by small, well-heeled terrorist groups. Security has to be about making the ordinary people of India stronger- you can start by feeding them properly and solving the problem of malnutrition. The Indian establishment – like a feudal zamindar – looks at India as its personal landed property to be protected – and tells the people of India that ‘you may not have bread, but we have a big bomb!’. Keeping the people weak and the state machinery strong is the policy of a colonial administration – which is what the Indian state has been all these decades- and this is completely unacceptable

      The rise of pseudo-nationalism, shrill militarism and the whipping up of religious chauvinism are signs that the Indian elites are worried about how to control a rebellion by their own enslaved population. The repeated flaunting of nuclear weapons, missiles and military power are meant to frighten their own citizens into submission too – not just Pakistan or China. History tells us that it is a strategy that is bound to fail – and hopefully very soon too.


  9. Actually Kalam was not a scientist. He was only a technology manager. And his “Doctorate” was not something earned by a PhD dissertation. It was merely an honorary doctorate handed out so often to plenty of celebrities and politicians by india’s universities.

    Here, Praful Bidwai has written about him detailing these and many other such conviniently forgotten things about kalam.


    1. Maybe, but so what? Actually we need a lot more competent “technology managers” to manage complex projects. Remember the Manhatton project had Nobel prize winners like Fermi but required a visionary “manager” like Oppenheimer.

      People like Kalam goad the scientists to achieve the impossible, fight the bureaucrats to get more budgets and manage the politician to ensure visibility and funding for the programme.

      Sans these, we would never have a viable programme.

      Above all, a good manager never ever hogs credit – and Kalam was generous to a fault about that. The credit for the missile programmes always went to the younger boys – Avinash Chander, Saraswat, pillai etc


      1. If you bothered yourselves to read the link I provided you would have understood he was far from a competent manager and that he was prone to gaffes. The DRDO which was managed by Kalam was one of the worst performing institutions in the entire indian government.

        The Arjun MBT was not used by Indian Army because it is too heavy.

        India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (launched 1983) is not a success story. Of the five different missile-classes it was meant to develop, only the Prithvi and Agni have become (quasi-)operational. The Trishul, Nag and Akash are nowhere near that status, despite long delays and massive cost overruns.

        many more such disasters in his career.

        Kalam is that kind of person who rise to the top by peddling patriotic platitudes. In this society such people are much in demand.

        You talk about Manhattan project like it is a cancer curing project. You are obviously unaware of the disastrous effects of nuclear weapons on the world. We are all living in the dark shadow cast by Nukes.

        The nuclear weapons which people like you obviously admire are not hand grenades. They are instruments of mass murders. If there is an attack on Delhi or Mumbai there would be maybe 1 to 5 million of dead bodies. And those who survive (which would be atleast 15 millions more) would have to suffer cancer, radiation sickness and other indignities for the rest of their life.

        This is a country that cannot even guarantee a minimal standard of healthcare for a vast majority of it’s citizens. It would be absurd to think this society would ever take care of those millions of victims of nuclear blasts. They would be left to rot. And people like you will of course jump to some western country like rats jumping from the sinking ship.

        It is the politicians of Congress and BJP who started the Nuclear arms race in this subcontinent irresponsibly (and it is they who started it, pakistan then followed them) and Kalam enabled them.


        1. You know very little about DRDO. It can be criticised but not without acknowledging its multi faceted achievements, which do not involve just missles and tanks. Akash has been accepted by the forces, by the way.7


  10. Maya Valecha, your idea won’t work, how would China and North Korea, both posible adversarios of India, be persuaded by public protests and demostrations?


  11. ideals are peaceful , history is violent
    the author has deviated the reader by giving the examples of gas chambers of Germany
    don’t we kill a coacroach or a rat just cause it entered in our home, should we throw away all our sticks and rat kill poisions ,being peacefull and let them eat our food give us diseases cause its sin to kill
    if we stop making missiles what will we do when other country attacks , who will take the blood of the innocent citizens of our country on his apron
    it’s true the system missuses the power but that doesn’t mean we should become saint and prone to any invasion just cause killing is a sin


  12. It is commendable what Dr. Kalam tried to do and did until the end – talk about science and in some way get students to pursue science studies and provide inspiration. Scientists are generally introverts and not very effective public speakers and he did a good job of communicating the scientist’s experiences.
    This apart, integrity of science and scientists is a very relevant question – not only for scientists working in physical, applied and life sciences but social sciences too.
    War research – or at least research led by militaristic organizations – has contributed greatly to inventions (including the ‘internet’) and it is amusing that the by products of war research have found applications in our day to day life which the intended and actual products may end life as we know it. Referring to Somnath’s comment above, why cannot a satellite launch vehicle contribute to missile launchers? It surely can and if not already, one day will.
    Scientific inquiry and its applications move forward in incremental steps and one cannot separate the culpability of many major scientific minds of the world today or in the past with WMDs. We are all responsible in one way or another – whether to add to hysteria that influences already paranoid politicians – “Pak has a bomb so we need a bomb” – or to be scientists who are commissioned to make these bombs.
    Who really is praiseworthy?


  13. Sathya Sagar has definitely hit the nail on the head for all engineers and scientists who are pursuing their careers in building weapons of destruction, especially mass destruction. True, it is clear that politicians are after power and privilege, and translate those into wealth (ill-gotten in almost all cases, including Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s), other professionals too pursue power, privilege and wealth.

    On that count, the die hard environmentalists (Anil Agarwal, Sunita Narain, Vandan Shiva, et. al. – without taking away the good work that they have all done) and leftists have revealed themselves too. (Even if we leave aside Stalins of the world) Jyoti Basu in our own land was an out and out seeker of power and privilege only (and wealth for his son) without taking Bengal or India one step further in any direction of peoples’ empowerment.

    However, I will draw the line at some point between Dr. Kalam and others. Perhaps, because I admire his sense of nationalism and national pride (although misplaced). On that count, almost every educated Indian is culpable. Ask them if India should be a state that has a standing military or a people’s guard or people’s militia, (I am guessing here) close to 99% educated Indians will be horrified of an Indian state without a standing army. Even we were to point out that most wars the Indian army (along with the paramilitary forces) fights is for subjugation of its own citizens – even when citizens’ demands are more than 100% justified (as in the case of our tribals who are being threatened with mass migration so that the natural resources in those regions can be exploited.

    On another count I would distinguish between Dr. Kalam and others is on the point (which could be entirely my own perception) that Dr. Kalam was not a seeker of his own power and privilege (and, definitely not ill-gotten wealth) but that these came to him incidentally. He was pursuing a dream (howsoever misplaced) to place India on the map of those who travel to Moon and beyond, and, of course, amongst the league of those who wield nuclear weapons. One can question his dream but perhaps not the man (his colleagues can provide clues as to how he handled internal politics in the organizations he worked in).

    I would believe that Dr. Kalam had the capability of achieving similar power and privilege had he chosen to pursue a different dream – perhaps, one that we would unhesitatingly support. I would like to believe that he was a man driven by his dreams – and anything else that came along with it was incidental.


  14. Satya sagar

    Please, please do some research before commenting.

    One, Kalam is the “same” as AQ Khan? Seriously? The latter is a certified dealer of nuclear technology. You have ANY reference that Kalam did anything similar? Actually, Kalam’s involvement in Indias nuke programme was minimal, he was a space and missiles guy.

    Two, India’s space programme is for the rich? Because of the 2004 tsunami? Journalists obviously don’t have either STEM backgrounds or have their facts right. Till 2004, there was no focus on tsunami at all. The satellites were focussed on meteorological applications. The Orissa experience last year is a shining example of how the space programme is saving thousands of poor lives.

    Three, all of us can abhor nukes. But can you ensure that China will destroy its nukes? Or Pak? Till that time, we need to have them too. People who help us in that are helping make sense of a dirty world. Not sitting in the sidelines and pontificating.

    Last, someone mentioned Praful Bidwai’s critique of Kalam. Without going into Praful Bidwai’s illiteracy on strategic issues, let’s take the two lives. Kalam build thuose big bad missiles and nukes, evangelised big bad “development” till the end and died on the pulpit.

    Praful was the good guy, opposing nukes, fighting for the “poor”, and generally gracing the international ngo circuit – he too died on the pulpit, attending an ngo meet in Holland.

    Guess whose funeral had the “poor” come out in their thousands?


    1. Somnath

      That Kalam did not sell missile technology to anyone over the internet or by post may be true but he was the father of the Indian missile program while AQ Khan was the father of the Pakistani bomb…both developed weapons of mass destruction or the ability to deliver them. That is good enough evidence to compare these two characters who have used their technical abilities to further the genocidal fantasies of their political masters.

      The ISRO started an Tsunami Early Warning Centre in 2005 – after the disaster of 26 December 2004 had killed tens of thousands – which means they had the capability to do this before too if only they had put the welfare of ordinary Indian people as a priority. My point was also about the way all the television channels they have enabled through their communication satellites proved useless in warning the people on the Indian coast on the occasion. The managers of the ISRO for long have been too busy trying to make India a ‘superpower’ to care about poor fisherfolk dying en masse due to lack of timely information or disaster response systems on the ground.

      Yes, both China and Pakistan have weapons of mass destruction – and if every country were to use the logic you advocate for the Indian WMD program – maybe Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can also acquire such weapons in future. Even non-state actors can gain access to nuclear weapons one day…where does this train stop finally – except in annihilation of large populations everywhere? Is that the future you want for your children or grand-children (assuming you already have or are planning some) ?

      As for the late Praful Bidwai – he used his own background as a graduate from IIT, Mumbai and his writing skills – to expose the dangers of the nuclear arms race and the unscrupulous role of ambitious scientists/engineers in developing such weapons. It is the sheer lack of arguments or logic on your part to compare Praful – a courageous and independent freelance journalist with no big institution, money or muscle power to back him – with Abdul Kalam -who was President of India and for long one of the most powerful people in the Indian defence establishment.

      And let me assure you Somnath, the number of people attending your funeral is not really an indicator of how good a person you were or what you contributed to the well-being of your country. I am sure there will be as many people at AQ Khan’s funeral as there were at Kalam’s and there will be perhaps even more crowds milling around when Dawood Ibrahim dies. But honestly, I will never hold those numbers as proof of any of them being a better human being than even an armchair defence strategist like you.


      1. “The ISRO started an Tsunami Early Warning Centre in 2005 – after the disaster of 26 December 2004 had killed tens of thousands”

        This is a very silly claim to make. No one ever expected a Tsunami in the Indian Ocean: that is partly why the first occurrence was so deadly (as an excercise, you might try to find out when a Tsunami happened last in this part of the world. You might be surprised).

        If you really want to critique ISRO’s performance have a look at the effect of cyclones on the Indian east cost. Less than 20 years ago, in 1999, at least 10000 people died on that coast in a cyclone in a tragedy of such gargantuan proportions that volunteer organizations had to be pressed into service not for providing succor to the living, but for burying the dead. Two years ago, a cyclone of the same intensity, Phailin, struck the same coast. You probably do not even remember it (for if you did, you would not be writing such strange things about ISRO). The reason: efficient predictions by the IMD, riding on top of ISRO’s infrastructure, led to one of the most ambitious evacuation drills ever undertaken anywhere in the world, and the total number of deaths was less than 50.

        Each one of those 9950 lives saved is justification enough for all the funding our government has ever put into ISRO. Please do not denigrate an organization that has done more for the poor than most outfits in India just so you can construct a polemic.


  15. Satya SAgar,

    By your logic (of the equivalence between Kalam and AQ Khan), there is no difference between Hitler and Gandhi (since both these “characters” used their leadership and charisma to develop a sense of nationalism and nationhood for their respective fellow citizens?).

    The issue is simple – did Kalam do the best he could to wade into the dirty waters of the real world to make India a better place to live in? The answer in any objective criteria would be a resounding yes.

    Certainly a lot more than the like of Praful Bidwai (no personal grouse against him, using the name as a comparison as someone brought his name up) who at the end of the day achieved really nothing. The world isnt a more “peaceful” place as a result of his “peacenik”-ing, Pakistan or China havent given up their nuclear weapons. The only thing that has really changed is the quality of boarding and lodging in the international NGO circuit!

    On Tsunami and ISRO’s focus, please read up the relevant history – basics of being a journalist! Tsunami was not a focus area pre-2004 simply becacuse the probability of the event was very very low. Policy makers naturally focussed on other high probability areas, like cyclones, monsoon, earth mapping – stuff that have greater applications for the “poor”. The devastation caused by the Tsunami prodded policymakers to concentrate there as the impact was large.


  16. Also, since when was it ISRO’s goal or mandate, to end or even massively relieve, poverty in India? ISRO has a very commendable record of launching satellites which improve the infrastructure of India, in telecom, I&B, meterology and remote sensing for detecting ground water. Every little bit helps. It is not going to solve the problem of poverty or underdevelopment on its own.


  17. That is exactly the problem. The ISRO never had a mandate to help solve the problems of the Indian poor, the BARC was not meant to provide power to those without it nor the DRDO ever meant for the defence of the Indian people whose woes are not due to Pakistan or China but arise from the rapaciousness of their own domestic rulers. This is a country with more people in absolute poverty than all of sub-Saharan Africa put together, where over 50 percent of children are malnourished and over half the rural population survives by doing back-breaking manual labour every day (see the latest Socio-Economic Caste Census data). All this while India’s richest 10 per cent have been getting steadily richer since 2000 – and now hold nearly three-quarters of total wealth.

    Now, this may very well be of no concern to some Indians who happen to be among the top 10 percent – competing as they are with the elites of other countries for status or markets or perhaps even mass death by nuclear war. However, as far as the idea of ‘national security’ is concerned it is clear that – without first taking care of the basic needs of the people and recognising their fundamental rights to live as human beings – the grandest of weapons or space programs are meaningless. They only serve to make the Indian state and those who run it strong while the Indian people remain weak and struggle to survive- like a subjugated, colonised population. It is ironical that the Indian defence programs have become a holy cow while a majority of Indians themselves are treated like cattle.


    1. And you continue ignoring the tremendous impact ISRO has been having on the life of Indians (see my comment above) despite not supposedly having a mandate to do so (in fact, Chander above is not quite right, and it is indeed ISRO’s mandate to develop “space applications” such as weather forecasting and communications, which it does). Sometimes, the right right to do is to just admit that you comment on ISRO not helping the poor in any way was made in haste and is not supported by evidence.


  18. I can’t find a link now but vaguely remember a speech where he said the main problem with India is that we are all too negative. We need to be positive and all problems will vanish. He gave the creepy example of Israelis going on about their “normal” business after rocket attacks (as self-defense) from the occupied territories.

    The last 2 quotes here could have come from Rhonda Byrnes (“the Secret” fame) who implied that Tsunami victims asked for it by not being on the “right frequency” with their thoughts :


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