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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Profile: India's 'missile man'
LCA maiden flight
A new combat plane is one of Professor Kalam's key projects

Professor APJ Abdul Kalam is the first Indian scientist to head the world's largest democracy.

APJ Abdul Kalam
Professor Kalam has had no political links
The 71-year-old southern Indian Muslim, widely known as "missile man", is acknowledged as the driving force behind India's quest for cutting-edge defence technologies.

His contributions to India's satellite programmes, guided and ballistic missiles project, nuclear weapons programme and the Light Combat Aircraft project have made him a household name.

Political parties in India's ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, believe he will prove an excellent choice.

Political message

Although the post of president is largely ceremonial, analysts say with Professor Kalam's nomination, the Hindu-nationalist BJP-led government is sending a "positive signal" to India's politically significant Muslim minority.

I am made in India

APJ Abdul Kalam
Indian Muslims have been deeply troubled by bloody communal riots earlier this year in the western state of Gujarat, in which some estimates say as many as 2,000 people died.

Local BJP leaders have been accused of complicity in the violence.

Defence scientist

APJ Abdul Kalam was born in 1931 into a middle-class family in Rameshwaram, a town well-known for its Hindu shrines.

India's Prithvi short-range ballistic missile
Professor Kalam's career was in defence research

His father owned boats which he rented out to local fishermen, but he himself began his career as a newspaper vendor.

He then earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from a technology institute in Madras.

Professor Kalam joined the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in the neighbouring state of Kerala in the 1960s as one of its first three engineers.

He played a major role in the centre's evolution to a key hub of space research in India, helping to develop the country's first indigenous satellite-launch vehicle.

The Indian media have attributed the development of India's advanced technology guided missiles to Professor Kalam's leadership.

Indian scientists have hailed him as the father of the Indian nuclear bomb and its missile delivery systems.

Nationalist visionary

Professor Kalam played an important role in India's nuclear tests four years ago and was awarded the "Bharat Ratna", or the Jewel of India, the country's highest civilian award.

Another of his major defence projects, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), designed to replace expensive foreign fighter aircraft with a locally-built fighter, is moving slowly out of the design boards.

After resigning as the Indian Government's Principal Scientific Advisor last year, Dr Kalam has been spending his time quietly as emeritus professor at the Anna University in his home state of Tamil Nadu.

A vegetarian bachelor, Professor Kalam was quoted as saying that like most of the technology he spearheaded, he himself was "Made in India", having never been trained abroad.

Critics, however, say Professor Kalam is better suited to the laboratory than to the presidential palace because of his political inexperience.

See also:

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