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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
'Missile man' elected India's president
Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee (l) with presidential candidate Abdul Kalam
"Missile man" (right) won by a landslide
Eminent scientist APJ Abdul Kalam has been elected India's new president.

I hope to work with you for the establishment of tension-free relations

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf
Announcing the result, India's election commission said Dr Kalam had defeated his only rival, Lakshmi Sahgal, with 89% of the vote being cast in his favour.

Votes were counted on Thursday, three days after Indian legislators cast their votes for the largely ceremonial post.

Dr Kalam is the retired architect of India's missile programme, and is supported by most of the major political parties, including the governing coalition and the opposition Congress party.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi
Congress leader Gandhi accepted the choice
He becomes India's third Muslim president.

Pakistan, India's neighbour and rival, has welcomed Dr Kalam's election.

A message from President Musharraf said he hoped the two men could work together for "tension-free relations between our two countries".

'An odd choice'

The new head of state was elected by an electoral college of about 5,000 central and state legislators.

The president of India is a titular head of state with few actual powers but his authority to decide which party or individual should be asked to form the central government after general elections gives his post significance.

This is especially the case when no single party has an overall majority in parliament.

Dr Kalam is acknowledged as the driving force behind India's quest for cutting edge defence technologies, and has helped turn Indian into a nuclear power.

He has no political experience and was seen by some as an odd choice for the presidency.

Compromise candidate

But others feel he will bring refreshing colour to the largely ceremonial post.

India's Prithvi missile
Dr Kalam pioneered India's missile programme
With his signature long, unruly silver hair and casual clothes, Dr Kalam has spent most of the past year teaching and speaking passionately about integrity and values.

He is known for his strong personal discipline, and is a strict vegetarian, teetotaller and a bachelor with a reputation for working day and night.

He was pitch-forked into politics just a few weeks ago.

Although a Muslim, he is well versed in Hindu scriptures, which correspondents say appeals to right-wing Hindus in the ruling coalition.

Analysts say Dr Kalam may be a popular figure but he is headstrong and too independent in his thinking and could prove to be a difficult customer for the ruling coalition.

Correspondents add that the choice of a Muslim is an important signal at a time when the country is still recovering from Hindu-Muslim riots earlier this year in the western state of Gujarat, the country's worst communal violence in a decade.

The BBC's Gill McGivering
"In a sense it's a very politically correct appointment"
See also:

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