Sunday, June 16, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Reducing the infant mortality rate a big challenge

If Lanka could succeed, why can’t we?
Shalina Mehta
ewland once said that infant mortality is a much better measure of the general economic and social well-being of society rather than high per capita income. This concern has suddenly acquired urgency in our planning process. 

How Punjab can do it
Inder Jit Singh
nfant mortality is an important index of the level of socio-economic development and quality of life. It is a sensitive indicator of the availability; utilisation and effectiveness of healthcare, particularly prenatal care and is commonly used for monitoring and evolving population and health programmes and policies. 

NUCLEAR HORRORAverting Indo-Pak nuclear war in mankind’s interest
Abu Abraham
n the morning, war clouds gather and obscure the sun. Thunder and lightning flash across the sky. In the evening, the sky is clear and blue and a silvery moon shines. 





Harihar Swarup
Missile Man’s mission: a prosperous India
inutes after Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had delivered an inspiring lecture, a ten-year-old girl came up to him and requested for his autograph. What is your ambition, asked Dr. Kalam, now all set to become the President of India. Without blinking her eyes the young girl replied: I want to live in a developed India.


When Kalam made a secret wish to KRN
t is a strange mix: missiles and moon, nuclear bomb and nature. But that is what A.P.J.Abdul Kalam is. The NDA’s candidate for the post of President is an ardent lover of nature. Consider this. 

  • Who’s the hostess?

  • Nitish proposed

  • Ram & Kalam

  • Last laugh

  • Hooda's gain


Humra Quraishi
A trump card for the Prime Minister
ith the Left coming up with the name of Captain Lakshmi Sehgal as its presidential candidate, here’s at least a sense of diversion. Asked why this delay in forwarding Sehgal’s candidature, a CPI(M) spokesperson said, “Why this talk that we are the first place itself we didn’t want to support A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s name for the simple reason that he is a NDA candidate and that would mean going along with the NDA agenda.”

  • KRN For Kerala?

  • French honourTop


Reducing the infant mortality rate a big challenge
If Lanka could succeed, why can’t we?
Shalina Mehta

Newland once said that infant mortality is a much better measure of the general economic and social well-being of society rather than high per capita income. This concern has suddenly acquired urgency in our planning process. There is a need to change strategies for bringing the infant mortality rate (IMR) from the present 68 per thousand to 30 per thousand by 2010. But how do we go about it?

The IMR in India has remained static in the last decade after showing a steady decline in the 1980’s and 1970’s. It is ironical that a country like Sri Lanka in the midst of a civil war has managed to keep its IMR below 17. Kerala is the only state in our country that recorded IMR of 16, which was at par with many developed and developing nations. Some of the BIMARU states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have recorded IMR of 80 per thousand. The financial health of a state, its rural infrastructure index, primary health facilities, poverty resulting in malnutrition and low levels of literacy appear primary determinants of mortality and morbidity in any society.

In the context of India, it is persistent undernourishment of women and girlchild in particular that is emerging as the critical factor responsible for infant mortality. Only 10 per cent of the higher socio-economic population of India records low birth weight infant mortality. Poverty thus appears as the major determinant of infant mortality in India. Medical interventions and nutrient supplements as local initiatives are likely to achieve limited results. There is a need to generate a social movement that involves the civic society and its resources to mobilise our dream objective of bringing down IMR by half by 2010.

It is important to reiterate here that since 1979 (The year of the child), despite signing the declaration, our commitment to bring down IMR even to the level of those prevalent in Mexico and Columbia has remained a pipe dream. The fact becomes disturbing because of the rhetoric of non-availability of financial resources. As early as 1984, the World Bank had demonstrated that per capita income levels were not determinants of IMR. If that had been the case, Sweden would not have recorded lower IMR of seven as compared to 11 in the USA. The contrast available between the two middle-eastern countries having higher per capita income than Sweden and still higher IMR was a case in point.

In the early Eighties, experts were convinced that it is not the average per capita wealth of the country that influences IMR but the distribution and disposition of the wealth. To this, I may add that our cultural diversity, political insecurity of some of our minority communities, religious orthodoxy and preference for a son become strong deterrents in our desire to reduce IMR.

The critical failure of our IMR strategy is our inability to conceive an integrated health management programme that takes into account socio-economic, cultural and health issues in a holistic perspective. The argument is as much valid for the failure of our family planning programme as is evident for IMR strategy. We made development initiatives in a compartmentalised manner without paying adequate attention to synchronising these efforts in a cogent manner. The correlation between incomes, crowded housing, unemployment, poverty and large families and higher neonatal and infant deaths are well known. When we invest in housing or employment generation, we take a significant step towards reducing IMR. We even failed to recognise that Kerala brought down its IMR by introducing applied nutrition programme implemented through a chain of pre-school education cum recreation centres by several agencies. Little attention was paid to Kerala’s success story which was also accompanied by extensive use of the mass media, rapid spread of higher education including women’s education.

Most of the BIMARU states have recorded IMR above 80 as compared to the average of 60 by nearly 20 other states and union territories. Investments made in finding limited medical care interventions would tantamount to merely touching the tip of the iceberg. Local community initiatives and the success achieved by these organisations not only need to be acknowledged but also encouraged. But let us not forget in our enthusiasm that the issue is much larger and requires immediate policy interventions.

In the wake of increasing female foeticide and female infanticide, it is crucial that we make some modifications in our existing method of recording births and deaths. According to the Deputy Registrar General of Census, only 23 States and Union Territories are able to comply and collect data under the scheme. Some of the figures given by the Registrar General’s office collected under the International Classification of Diseases Act (ICD-9) are revealing as well as disturbing.

Analysis of data from 1990-1997 shows that as compared to 13.7 per cent male child deaths, the female child deaths stand at 14.9 per cent in 1997 as compared to 17.0 per cent male child deaths and 17.9 per cent female child deaths in the year 1990. Medical science has clear evidence to suggest that biological immunity of a girl child is more than that of a male child. How do we explain this increase from point 9 per cent to 1.2 per cent in girl infant mortality? Certainly, social factors are encouraging this trend. For a better understanding of social forces operating in society, we need to evolve another method.

One of the procedures suggested and in practice in some wards in Kerala relates to recording of all pregnancies. This requires greater vigilance by the local health workers, local political bodies and greater responsibility for the village panchayat, wherever these institutions are well established. This shall serve dual purpose. By registering pregnancies, we can determine the cause of reported miscarriage or abortion and meet the challenge that female foeticide is posing in some of the states listed at the top by the Planning Commission’s Human Development Index report Both Punjab and Haryana, along with Chandigarh have recorded the lowest sex ratio in the recently concluded census survey 2001.

Apparently, one of the critical determinants of IMR is the position of woman within the family and the community to which she belongs. Every other indicator of high infant mortality is linked to this core position. Genetic factors like cerebral birth traumas or congenital malformations are known to be responsible for only eight to 10 per cent of total infant mortality that occurs in India every year. It is deliberate neglect of mother and the newborn baby that is responsible for the majority of these deaths. Women, infants and dependent children need adequate nourishment. It is the combined responsibility of the state and civic society to ensure that they are adequately looked after.

The other crucial limitation in our attempts to achieve 30 per cent infant mortality by 2010 is the state of primary health structure in India. The data on IMR shows that there is a wide gap in IMR for rural and urban India. In rural areas barring urban slums where, it is reported to be sometimes higher than rural areas, the difference is to the tune of 30 for urban areas and 70 per thousand for rural areas. The primary health structure and network of services for rural and tribal belts of the country have systematically been eroded. The programme of structural adjustments launched after economic liberalisation has put the final nail in its coffin. Except in areas where local governance has assumed the responsibility of managing these institutions and hold the staff accountable to the local bodies, erosion of these services is virtually complete. Insensitive planning and popular cliches ensured the early demise of indigenous health belief systems.

In the absence of alternate, adequate and deliverable health practices, the average tribal and peasant in Mahatma’s land is at the mercy of God! It is a sad reflection on our concerns for a vibrant and healthy society. Community participation is the only tested strategy for effective management of the healthcare systems. But there are problems. In rural areas, even in those states that have recorded high consumer index, transport infrastructure is in a bad shape.

In case of an emergency, if a pregnant woman has to be ferried 10 to 20 kms to reach a hospital, how do we ensure the survival of the child and the mother? The UNICEF in 1984 stated that “people who judiciously utilise the available mother child health (MCH) services are likely to improve their children’s survival prospects”.

Profound as the statement may be, the key question is of the availability and affordability of the services. The entire exercise of structural adjustments in India and also in the other Third World countries has not worked to the advantage of the people. If we are serious about improving the quality of life of our people, we need to review these structural adjustments and provide greater safety nets to our tribal and village populations.

The Srivastva Committee Report (1975) wisely proposed to create bands of paraprofessional and semi-professional health workers from the community itself to promote preventive and curative health services. The scheme was launched with much fanfare on October 2, 1977 and was withdrawn in 1984, after the evaluators concluded that the programme managers did not understand the primary objectives of the scheme. Once again, it was the failure of the delivery system and that of the administration that resulted in the premature death of a viable model of health delivery system.

It is imperative that we do some soul-searching at this juncture. People want healthcare institutions and are willing to cooperate with them if the health personnel can relate and empathise with them. The surest way of reducing IMR is to involve mothers and families in an inspirational contingency plan that centre the concept of ‘value of each child’. This plan has to revoke the spirit of the Alma Ata Conference asking governments to encourage and ensure full community participation through effective propagation of relevant information, increased literacy and development of necessary institutional arrangements through which individuals, families and communities can assume the responsibilities of their health and well-being.

China, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and our own Kerala have pursued different policy initiatives under distinct, yet distinguished political philosophies to bring down IMR in their respective domains of governance; to demonstrate that it is willingness and political persuasiveness that achieve results, not necessarily the ideological and hyphenated policies without any intent to mobilise the populations concerned.

It is equally important to stress that income, occupation and education as interrelated factors may effect the nutritional status, age at marriage, birth interval, birth weight, foetal wastage, sib-ship size etc, but they are not intervening emphatically and effectively in reducing stigma, prejudice and neo-natal discrimination. If that were the case then we would not be reading stories of women being burnt or starved to death for giving birth to a daughter. Infant daughters are killed by choking or are drugged in the presence of literate members of families. It is here that effective policy interventions accompanied by necessary legislation whenever required, are going to make big difference. But people, through their wholehearted participation and cooperation, will make the ultimate difference.

It is in this context that we need to applaud and appreciate the efforts being made by organisations like Chetna, Cini, efforts made by Dr Bang and his team in Gadcholi and various other programmes operating as local initiatives. These experiments and efforts need to be replicated given the conditions responsible for their success including the quality of leadership and commitment of the workers.

A social movement supported by the government and a nationwide voluntary effort involving each and every component of civic responsibility can help us achieve the desired goal of bringing IMR to 30 per thousand by the end of this decade.

The writer is Professor of Anthropology, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Trends in Infant Mortality Rate: India & Punjab 1981 — 2000


Infant Mortality Rate

India Punjab


Rural Urban Total Rural Urban
1981  110 119 62 81 88 51
1982 105 114 65 75 82 53
1983 105 114 66 80 84 69
1984 104 113 66 66 77 35
1985 97 107 59 71 78 51
1986 96 105 62 68 72 55
1987 95 104 61 62 62 63
1988 94 102 62 62 63 59
1989 91 98 58 64 71 44
1990 80 86 50 61 66 45
1991 80 87 53 53 58 40
1992 79 85 53 56 61 41
1993 74 82 45 55 60 39
1994 74 80 52 53 59 36
1995 74 80 48 54 58 39
1996 72 78 46 52 55 40
1997 71 77 45 51 54 38
1998 72 77 45 54 58 40
1999 70 75 44 53 57 39
2000 68 74 43 52 56 38



How Punjab can do it
Inder Jit Singh

Infant mortality is an important index of the level of socio-economic development and quality of life. It is a sensitive indicator of the availability; utilisation and effectiveness of healthcare, particularly prenatal care and is commonly used for monitoring and evolving population and health programmes and policies. Infant (less than one year) and early childhood (less than five years) deaths still form a large fraction of the deaths at all ages. In India, one out of every fifth death is an infant and a total of about 1.8 million infants die annually.

In India, Infant Mortality Rate (number of infant deaths per 1000 live births in a year) is very high (68) as compared to many other countries of the world. China, the most populous country of the world, has an infant mortality rate (IMR) of 28, Russia (20), the USA and the United Kingdom less than 7 and Japan has as low IMR as 4.

Even in the South-Asian region, countries like Sri Lanka have lower IMR than India (16). Within the country, there are substantial differences between the states. At one end of the spectrum is Kerala with IMR of 14, which is comparable to many developed countries, at the other end, is Orissa with a very high IMR of 96. Amongst 35 states and Union Territories, Punjab with an IMR of 52 ranks 19 in the country.

What is disturbing in Punjab is not only the relatively high level of IMR but also its stagnation in the past one decade. Ever since 1991, IMR in Punjab has been hovering around 52 to 54.

The current level of IMR in Punjab (52), although, lower than the national average of 68, is much higher than many other states/UTs like Kerala (14), Mizoram (21), Goa and Manipur (23), Chandigarh (28), Delhi (32). Punjab's neighbouring states also have a relatively high IMR. Rajasthan (79), Haryana (67), Himachal Pradesh (60). In Punjab, infant deaths constitute 15.8 per cent of the total deaths as against national average of 21 per cent. Neo-natal deaths (less than 29 days) constitute 60.4 per cent of the infant deaths and early neo-natal deaths (less than 7 days) constitute 48.1 per cent of infant deaths in Punjab.

Let us discuss the trends in IMR in Punjab since 1981 as obtained from Sample Registration System (SRS). IMR declined from 68 in 1986 to 62 in 1987, again rose to 64 in 1989 and came down to 61 in 1990 and further to 53 in 1991. Although during the 1981-91 decade, IMR declined by about 28 points, since 1991, IMR in Punjab have more or less stagnated at about 52/53. Even the NFHS-2 report, which has put the IMR in Punjab at 57 and in India t 68, has pointed out that IMR in Punjab has not changed in the last five and a half years between NFHS-1 and NFHS-2.

Why has the IMR stagnated in Punjab? Are health planners in Punjab not concerned over the fact that for over a decade, the IMR has not declined? What concrete steps have been taken to check this stagnation and bring it down? The surprising part is that IMR remained stagnant both in rural and urban areas at levels which are pretty high. The urban IMR of 38 is disturbingly high for a state like Punjab. Are the coverage rates of preventive and curative child health services in Punjab declining or leveling off? It is true that not only in Punjab, in many other states and for the country as a whole, the pace of decline in IMR in the past one decade has been very slow.

Considering the goal set by the National Population Policy (NPP) 2000 for reduction of IMR to 30 per 1000 by the year 2010 for the country as a whole, the stalling of decline in IMR in Punjab should evoke enough concern among the policymakers and programme implementers. If our current strategy has not made a significant dent in reducing IMR in Punjab, it is necessary to consider alternative policy options for achieving tangible results. A National Workshop on IMR at New Delhi deliberated on the issue thread-bare and considered various interventions/ strategies required to break the stagnation deadlock in IMR and bring it down to the levels envisaged in the NPP 2000.

The main causes of infant deaths are poor maternal health, low birth weight, malnutrition, infections and diseases, such as diarrhoea and malaria. Some studies have shown that pre-maturity account for about 38 per cent of infant deaths, while respiratory infection contributes about 29 per cent. As per the data compiled by the Registrar-General, India under the Medical Certification of Cause of Death Scheme for the period 1990 to 1997, there are eight leading major cause groups, which account for more than 95 per cent of infant mortality. Out of these eight major cause groups, 12 causes/cause groups account for around 69 per cent of infant mortality.

Available research shows that IMR declines substantially with increase in the level lf education, age at marriage, high nutritional status of the mother and increase in the length of previous birth interval. Even basic measures like increase in ante-natal care coverage, promoting institutional deliveries/trained health personnel assisted deliveries, increase in immunisation coverage, early identification of high-risk births and educating mothers about correct infant feeding practices including breast feeding can help in bringing down infant mortality rates substantially.

Punjab needs to launch an intensive infant mortality reduction campaign if it wants to reverse the stagnating trends in IMR and reduce it to at least the levels envisaged by NPP i.e. 30 by 2010. For this it needs to adopt a multi-sectoral approach, with the active involvement of NGOs and people's participation, for increased access to better ante-natal care and reproductive and child healthcare facilities, promoting institutional delivery and encouraging better infant feeding practices, providing complete immunisation cover, improving female education, empowering women, both socially and economically, with a view to raising their overall standard of living and status in society. Only then, it will be possible for Punjab to break the stagnating trend of IMR and further bring down the IMR to at least the levels envisaged by the NPP.

The writer, an IAS officer, is the Director, Census Operations, Punjab.


Averting Indo-Pak nuclear war in mankind’s interest
Abu Abraham

NUCLEAR HORROR: While Pakistan’s Ghauri and Ghaznavi missiles (left) have a range of 1,500 km and 300 km respectively, India’s Agni-II and Agni-I (right) have a range of 2,000 km and 750 km respectively.

In the morning, war clouds gather and obscure the sun. Thunder and lightning flash across the sky. In the evening, the sky is clear and blue and a silvery moon shines. We have learnt to judge the political scene according to the poetic fancies of our Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

On Monday he beats the drums. On Tuesday he coos like a dove. His mind leeps from decisive victory to indecisive reverie. He is a master of suspense, the Alfred Hitchcock of politics and warfare.

If our country slips into war, it won’t be from a deliberate choice, but more likely because our leadership cannot make up its mind. Accidental war is thus a distinct possibility. It can be accidental nuclear war for it is the nuclear weapons that are capable of making us all totally neurotic and irrational.

Remember the scene after Pokhran? There was Advani telling the Pakistanis that the geo-strategic situation has changed so withdraw from Kashmir. He was accompanied by Madan Lal Khurana, who was more challenging: “Give us the time and the place”, he demanded, “we shall have a war, we shall have Kurukshetra”. Two weeks pass and Pakistan demonstrates her nuclear strength (Chagai, May 28, 1998). It was all so bizarre. Nuclear euphoria had gone to their heads. Now where do we stand? Our common citizens shake in their chappals at the thought of war. We were told that nuclear bombs are for the nation’s security. On the contrary, we are now a thousand times more insecure. Many of us said this at the time, and we were mocked by bomb-lovers. The bomb was a sign of virility, a mark of patriotism.

Talking about war, or nuclear war, can be a dispiriting experience. No matter how educated or uneducated people may be, their ignorance and insensitivity is shocking. They talk about ‘limited’ war or a war to settle matters once and for all. But they don’t want to think of the consequences. Most people think of nuclear weapons as something that is vastly more superior in power than ordinary bombs, but have no real awareness of its devastation. They need to be shown the documentary films on Hiroshima — men and women running about naked with their skins peeling off — to make them sit up and think.

A recent Pentagon report says that a full- scale nuclear war between India and Pakistan could kill up to 12 million people immediately and injure another seven million. Not included in the estimate, were subsequent deaths caused by urban firestorms ignited by the heat of a nuclear exchange, or deaths from long-term radiation, or the disease and starvation expected to spread.

‘The humanitarian crisis would be so great that every medical facility in the Middle East and South West Asia would be quickly overwhelmed’, according to US defence officials. ‘The American military would have no choice but go in and help with victims and clean up’.

For a more graphic account of nuclear horror, I would recommend Arundhati Roy’s brilliant essay, ‘The end of imagination’ (Frontline, August 14, 1998). Here is an extract:

“….If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements — the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water — will all turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible.

“Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day. Only interminable night. Temperatures will drop to far below freezing and nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fallout will seep through the earth and contaminate groundwater. Most living things, animal and vegetable, fish and fowl, will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and multiply and compete with foraging, relict humans for what little food there is.

“What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?…”

These words are not the fancy of Arundhati. They are cold facts. They show precisely how the earth itself would react to a nuclear attack. If the human mind is incapable of comprehension, mankind will perish.


Missile Man’s mission: a prosperous India
Harihar Swarup

Minutes after Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had delivered an inspiring lecture, a ten-year-old girl came up to him and requested for his autograph. What is your ambition, asked Dr. Kalam, now all set to become the President of India. Without blinking her eyes the young girl replied: I want to live in a developed India. The remark struck the father of India’s missile programme like lightning; this has been his dream too. Precisely at that time, Dr. Kalam was writing, along with his colleague, Y.S. Rajan, his new book India 2020: A vision for the New Millenium. He dedicated the book to the girl with the words: This book is dedicated to her and the millions of Indians who share her aspiration. So impressed was Dr. Kalam by the resoluteness of the young girl that he wrote in the preface: Ignited young minds, we feel, are a powerful resource. This resource is mightier than any resource on the earth, in the sky and under the sea.

Stepping in of Dr. Kalam in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, almost a month from now, appears a certainty. Guess what would be his first message to the nation? It may be on these lines; We must work together to transform our developing India into a developed India and the revolution required for this effort must start in our minds. His vision relates to a prosperous India without poverty; an India strong in trade and commerce; an India strong in many fields of science and technology and an India with health and education to all. His space technology vision has come true and reaching out to the people. The achievements include communication through networks in remote areas; disaster warning system; quick resource surveys to target ground water and save forest cover campaign.

The man, who has spent all his life learning rocketry and will now occupy the highest office of the land, knows well how to manage men, matters and materials. Dr. Kalam is now well known in India and abroad but there are still little known facets of his life. His full name is Avil Pakir Jalauddin Abdul Kalam and he hails from the southern most tip of India. Coming from a poor family of

Rameswaram, he has come up hard way in life. His father Jainulabiddin Marakayar was a panchayat board president and owned a few boats which ferried pilgrims between Rameswaram and Dhanuskhody. Come the 1964 cyclone and Dhanushkody was ravaged, limiting the operation of boats to ferrying passengers between Rameswaram and the ships anchored off the coast. Marakayar had excellent relations with the holy temple of Rameswaram and during the temple festivals special honours were bestowed on him.

Youngest in his family, Dr. Kalam was the first to graduate; none of his brothers and sisters could even complete their school stage. His schooling was done in Rameswaram and at a missionary school in Ramanathapuram town. He did his graduation from St. Joseph College in Tiruchi. There was a time when his father could not afford his school fee and his sister had sell her ornaments to send him for higher education. As a young boy Kalam even sold newspapers at the behest of his elder brother who was a newspaper agent. The prodigy in Kalam came to the fore since his school days but proliferated when he joined aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology. Kalam is now 71 but remained a bachelor. He once told his friend jocularly: “had I married, I would have never even half of what I have managed to do”. It is just a coincidence that, for the first time, both the President and the Prime Minister of India will be bachelors.

Dr. Kalam is a strict vegetarian, well-versed in the works of Tamil Poet Subramania Bharathi, likes to play “rudra veena” and recites verses of the “Geeta”. When he was awarded Bharat Ratna in 1997, he lived in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) guest house in Delhi and his accommodation comprised a bed room, a sitting room, a makeshift visitor’s room and an attached bath. Books have been only Dr. Kalam’s worldly possession. He did not have even a TV set and tuned to AIR bulletins to keep himself abreast of developments. His frugal meal was cooked by the guest house’s cook and included boiled rice, rasam, sambhar and a vegetable.

Those who have worked closely with Dr. Kalam say he is the happiest person when a research in scientific field is put to use for the mankind, particularly the poor and the disabled. He was emotionally moved when polio-affected children stood on their feet with the help of calipers made out of carbon-carbon material developed by the team of scientists working with him. Carbon-carbon material developed for Agni missile, made calipers one-tenth of their original weight of four kilos.

In remote villages of snow-clad Ladakh, not a blade of grass grew and vegetables were transported with great difficulty. On a visit to the area, Dr. Kalam asked the DRDO unit there to explore the possibility of growing plants. A research was carried out and now the villages grow enough vegetables not only to meet their requirements but also of the needs of neighbouring villages. Kalam is a “work-alcoholic” and works seven days a week. There are no holidays and weekends for him.


When Kalam made a secret wish to KRN

It is a strange mix: missiles and moon, nuclear bomb and nature. But that is what A.P.J.Abdul Kalam is. The NDA’s candidate for the post of President is an ardent lover of nature. Consider this. In February this year, the Bharat Ratna scientist went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for a private dinner with K.R.Narayanan. The President came upto the Western Gate to see off his distinguished guest.

President’s ADC sits in a room close to this gate. As KRN and Kalam came out in the open, Kalam stopped, his gaze fixed on the sky. The President asked him what he was thinking about. Pat came the answer from Kalam that he wanted to have a walk “here” in a moon-lit night. When moon is shining up in the sky and myriads of flowers are down below, the walk would be beautiful.

KRN was apparently flummoxed for a moment. Perhaps because taking a walk in a moon-lit night in the Rashtrapati Bhavan can be the prerogative of the President only. But the President replied courteously that Kalam should feel free to visit Rashtrapati Bhavan anytime to have his moonlight walk. The topic ended there only. Kalam probably never thought or even dreamt that providence had a bounty in store for him. No prizes for guessing where in Rashtrapati Bhavan Kalam would be found after July 24, particularly on moonless nights.

Who’s the hostess?

History of sorts will be be created with the the two top positions in the country being held by bachelors. Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as the presidential nominee of the BJP-led NDA has never been married as is the case with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. However, in Mr Vajpayee’s case he has a loving foster family. His foster daughter Namita is always at hand and plays the hostess. This is where Dr Kalam might be handicapped given his status of a confirmed bachelor once he occupies Rashtrapati Bhawan next month.

His brother A.P.J.Mohammed Muthumeeran Marakayar who lives in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu said in an interview some years ago that that if the missile man had married, he would never have achieved even half of what he has managed to do. Nevertheless, when Dr Kalam was posted at

Thiruvananthapuram, his brother disclosed that “we had almost fixed an alliance for him but my wife and daughter fell ill and we got distracted by that.” And that was that for Dr Kalam on the matrimonial front.

His brother went on to say that even though Dr Kalam, ascetic in looks and behaviour, is religious and prays twice a day. Dr Kalam is a strict vegetarian and adept at playing the rudra veena and is a fan of the patriotic Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. During the late Giani Zail Singh’s tenure as President, his wife hardly spent much time in Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Giani’s daughter doubled up as the hostess. It will be interesting to see how Dr Kalam overcomes this lacuna.

Nitish proposed

With several leaders taking credit for throwing up the name of Kalam for the high office of President, it now appears that Railway Minister Nitish Kumar was the first to make the suggestion. It caught the fancy of the BJP leaders and others because of Dr Kalam being an apolitical scientist besides belonging to the minority community. At the end of the day after Dr Kalam’s name for the post of President had been clinched, there were several claimants who patted their own acumen publicly that the missile man was their choice. Among these busybodies who claimed that they had propped up Dr Kalam’s name included TDP supremo and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu and Samajwadi party leader and former defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Ram & Kalam

Ram Jethmalani is one of those men who always remain in the news. The likes of him can never remain away from the media glare. He had made it clear months ago that he was going to contest for the post of President and that he should be taken as a serious candidate. He was then probably hoping for Shiv Sena’s support. But much changed in between. Sena’s support never came. Bal Thackeray plumped for Maharashtra Governor P.C.Alexander. But when the Opposition parties rejected Alexander, the BJP unleashed a tactical missile on the opposition by zeroing in on Kalam. This put paid to Jethmalani’s hopes. Now the former Union Law Minister has accepted the turn of events gracefully. He says: “Kalam is a good choice. It sends a right message all over in the post-Godhra scenario. Making him the President would be the right thing to do.”

Last laugh

Dr Kalam’s candidature for the post of President was a political masterstroke of the BJP leadership that left the Opposition high and dry. It led to the dissolution of the People’s Front and created differences between the Congress and the Left. Congress leaders privately admitted that the party was outsmarted in the presidential sweepstakes and it was finally left with no alternative but to back Dr Kalam.

The Congress was hoping against hope that President K.R.Narayanan would agree to be the Opposition candidate. Had the BJP persisted with P.C .lexander, the Congress and the Opposition would have surely forced a contest.

The Congress leaders were uncomfortable with Alexander as he was seen close to Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery. They say that Mr Narayanan might still have considered contesting had Mulayam Singh Yadav not walked out of the People’s Front.

In the event of a contest between NDA and a unified Opposition, the fight would have been tough. Now, of course, the BJP is having the last laugh and it is now certain that the Vice-President would be a BJP man. Old BJP war horse and three-time Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is the front runner.

Hooda's gain

The Jind agitation of farmers in Haryana has had an unexpected fallout, not on the Haryana government of Om Prakash Chautala but on the Congress. The party high command seems to have dropped the move to replace its Haryana unit chief Bhupinder Singh Hooda for the time being. Sources said the farmers agitation came at a time when the high command had almost made up its mind to replace Hooda who had completed five years as PCC chief. Hooda’s rivals in the party had worked hard to convince the high command about the need for a change in the PCC but now all their efforts seem to have come unstuck.

The high command apparently feels that changing the PCC chief in the midst of a major agitation, with which the Congress has fully identified itself, would be politically unsound. Also, since Hooda is a Jat, as are most farmers on the agitational path, the signals of change would be wrong. As non-Jats constitute a sizeable majority in the state, the party was thinking of appointing a non-Jat as a PCC chief. Now, all this seems an old story.

Contributed by TRR, Rajeev Sharma and Prashant Sood.


A trump card for the Prime Minister
Humra Quraishi

With the Left coming up with the name of Captain Lakshmi Sehgal as its presidential candidate, here’s at least a sense of diversion. Asked why this delay in forwarding Sehgal’s candidature, a CPI(M) spokesperson said, “Why this talk that we are the first place itself we didn’t want to support A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s name for the simple reason that he is a NDA candidate and that would mean going along with the NDA agenda.”

Two other names — Justice A.M.Ahmedi, the former Supreme Court Chief Justice and Ms Fathima Beevi, former Supreme Court Judge, (who later became Tamil Nadu Governor and was later recalled) — were doing the rounds as the Left’s choice for the highest office till Friday evening when Captain Sehgal’s name came up. Captain Sehgal has a number of points in her favour — she is the daughter of the legendary activist Ammu Swaminathan, a former comrade of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and is presently based in Kanpur, immersed in social work along with her daughter Subhashini Ali. However, with the Congress’ support to Kalam, she will be on the losing end.

Professor Kalam’s name is a virtual trump card for the Vajpayee government in the sense that after the Gujarat carnage, a Muslim name for the highest office in the country could supposedly work as a balm for members of the minority community and could send positive signals to the Middle Eastern countries. But a social analyst commented, “Muslims have begun to see through these political games and if you talk of the Middle Eastern countries, they hardly matter in today’s political scenario because even whilst the Gujarat carnage was at its peak, not one Muslim nation spoke out and the pressure on the Vajpayee government came in only from the Europeon countries .”

Perhaps, not enough pressure because Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi sits not just untouched but he even addressed a press conference in Delhi on Thursday, outlining his moves for the ensuing Assembly elections in that State. It’s of course for the Election Commission to decide whether there can be free and fair polls in that state with Modi having firmly saddled in that seat and making adequate ‘arrangements’ for the elections.

KRN For Kerala?

Speculation is already ripe whether the outgoing President, Mr K.R. Narayanan will head for his home state, Kerala, where his wife, Usha, has already made a base. For the last several years, she has been regularly visiting a particular Kerala village and looking after several projects for the socio- economic development of the residents. The other option for the Narayanans would be to live in a bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi or in the Media Centre (Gurgaon) house owned by his diplomat daughter, Chitra.

French honour

French Ambassador’s residence isn’t all that private after his predecessor started the trend of hosting official dos at the residence, be it the launch of a book or that of a designer label. In keeping with that practice, the doors leading to the elegantly furnished rooms of the French Ambassador’s residence were thrown open to host the informal reception hosted in honour of Aruna Vasudev, after she was bestowed with the award ‘Chevalier des Arts des Lettres’. She gushed like a school girl recounting her student days and and the period when she was attached to two French directors in Paris.

Memories of those days seem to hold sway — “France is my second home...its been a 40-year-old association with France, starting from 1959 and I feel it has been the best aspect of my life...” said Vasudev. The second best aspect of her life seems the cinema and a book authored by her on the Asian cinema (Macmillan) should soon hit the stands.

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | In Spotlight | Chandigarh Tribune | Ludhiana Tribune
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
122 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |