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The People's President

Remembering Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on his 89th birth anniversary — a pragmatic leader who believed that India’s future lies in becoming a knowledge superpower — a belief that now forms the core of NEP 2020

The Peoples President
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Gandhiji said, "My life is my only message". Dr APJ Abdul Kalam is one such icon after Gandhi who truly imbibed Gandhiji's message and lived his life as an open book to inspire and lead the country from the highest office of President of India. He was not only a great scientist and a statesman but also a true ambassador of Indian value system. From being the 'Missile Man of India' to the 'People's President', he was everyone's favourite. Dr Kalam rose from humble beginnings to the highest office of President of India with his commitment to nation and vision of making India a global power. He always believed in the philosophy of 'Nation first' while discharging his duties in significant capacities.

The United Nations, in the year 2010, dedicated Dr Kalam's birthday as World Student's Day as a token of respect towards the prodigious scientist, statesman, lifelong teacher and indeed, global citizen with supreme human values. Dr Kalam always believed that the youth are the key to the nation's building. He dedicated most of his time during his tenure as the President of India to interact with the students and ignited the minds of younger generations to equip them with wings of fire and inspired them to dream big. The dreams which one can see while awake and don't let us sleep. I had several opportunities to interact with the legendary icon. His discipline and austerity inspired me to write a book on lessons from his life management — 'Sapne Jo Sone Na De' which he inaugurated.

It is significant to mention an incident which speaks volumes about his simplicity and humility. Back in 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called him for felicitating his efforts towards putting the country on the world's space map. Though he was extremely happy to meet her, he felt tremors of panic as he owned neither a suit nor shoes. To pacify him, Mr Satish Dhawan, the then head of the ISRO told him, "You are already wearing the suit of success. So be there." Post listening to him, Dr Kalam went with honour to meet the Prime Minister. This small anecdote is a message to the younger generations to learn how to lead by example. As President, his most significant achievement was accessibility and openness. He gave a new vision of accountability and added dignity to the President's Office.

Dr Kalam played the role of a teacher until his last breath. During the 2006 National Teachers Award, he said, "Teachers have to realise that they are the builders of the society. Society can be built only when the students are made proficient in their subjects. Also, they have to provide a vision for life to the students and also teach the fundamentals of values which he should practice in the years to come."

Dr Kalam strongly advocated a comprehensive yet inclusive plan of action to formulate India into a 'knowledge superpower' having virtues of a developed nation in the 21st century. He identified five areas wherein core competence with integrated action will lead to food, economic and national security. He emphasised on self-reliance in the field of agriculture and food processing; education and healthcare; information and communication technology; infrastructure and critical technologies to make India a global power.

The Missile Man's view on the atom bomb, which he helped build, is very intriguing. Dr Kalam believed that nuclear bombs deter other nations from attacking or subjugating India and are, therefore, "weapons of peace" and not weapons of mass destruction. He was also a strong advocate of 'no first use' policy of nuclear armament. He regarded India's nuclear weapons programme as an initial step towards establishing India's place as a future superpower.

Dr Kalam was a rational yet critical thinker who sought to establish India as a balanced society in which there is fine integration of both ancient and modern educational ideals for India to set a path towards development. He considered education as a critical factor in shaping the future of the nation and children as well. The primary focus of students should be to harness his/her capabilities through adequately studying. For the student to do so, the education system should nurture within the student the very qualities of scientific inquiry, creativity, bent towards technology and entrepreneurship which showcasing moral leadership. These capabilities will create autonomous learners, learners who will feature themselves as self-directed, self-controlled, lifelong learners who will have the capacity to both respect authority and at the same time, are capable of questioning authority when required. Integration of technology-enhanced learning as a key component for establishing India as a knowledge society.

Dr Kalam believed that the education system has a tremendous responsibility to transform a child into a leader. 'What can you do for me to what can I do for you', he envisioned an education system that can correlate education with the problem of life, democratise education and address the challenges of modern scientific and technical advancement. He also believed that education is the foundation to ensure the creation of enlightened citizens who will make a prosperous, happy and robust nation.

Students are the centre of gravity of the New Education Policy. NEP 2020 will set up the foundation of 'New India'. Prime Minister Modi has led NEP 2020 to make India a global knowledge power and set up the foundation of an education system that will genuinely be 'Indian, international, impactful, inclusive and interactive'.

The new ecosystem will develop the human capital that creates enlightened citizens and believes in moral leadership with a strong sense of dignity, self-respect and self-reliance. PM Modi has led the nation and implemented the vision of Dr Kalam to make India truly 'Aatama Nirbhar Bharat' in all domains of comprehensive national power (CNP).

The writer is the Union Education Minister, Government of India. Views expressed are personal

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