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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Patience for process, incentives, ideology, interests, all the raw material of politics

Home > Edits & Columns Prime Minister Kalam? Pratap Bhanu Mehta Indian Express: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 His popularity is testament to the possibility of political leaders transcending class barriers
The standard narrative about A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s immense popularity emphasises the fact that he was an apolitical individual, above the partisanship and pettiness of what we now take to be politics. But there is good reason to think that the opposite is true. What made him appealing to so many was that he offered a different vision of politics; he came to personify what people, in other times and places, expected of their politicians. His greatest success was that, as is the case with great politicians, the idea of Kalam became more important than the individual Kalam.
So his individual failings, his occasionally comic persona, his untiring didacticism, his track record of being a survivor in an immensely politicised defence research establishment, the uncertainties over the extent of his scientific contributions, his mushy poetry and even occasional lapses of constitutional judgment became more or less irrelevant to his image. He was the president, who once he took high office put the people beside him...
Indeed, the strength and weakness of Kalam’s outlook is that it is very much an engineer’s: it has little patience for process, incentives, ideology, interests, all the raw material of politics. But it has also helped define the aspirations of a new and emerging India...But did this engineering outlook on social problems make Kalam a politician? Not in one significant sense. Part of what people expect from their leaders is hope, a set of answers to their challenges, a set of possibilities, even a plan of action...
Kalam was engaging in politics in the deeper sense of the term: he had an unerring instinct for what the people were looking for, he never criticised but only proposed alternatives, he levelled distinctions between people not by lowering the elite but by raising the aspirations of masses, and he relentlessly called attention to the fact that the Office was a means not an end. It is always possible to probe further into his motives and compromises. But he succeeded not because he was apolitical but because he had a sense of what people want in a politician: the capacity to project a future full of possibilities with conviction and sincerity. The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research

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