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Book Review – ‘Turning Points’ – A Journey Through Challenges

                                                      (Rs 139/-)

Other books by Kalam: Target 3 Billion  

                                       Wings Of Fire

Indian National Congress supported A P J Abdul Kalam for presidency in 2002, but it chose not to in 2007 for his reelection and again in 2012 when Mamatha Bannerjee and Mulayam Singh surreptitiously announced his name for the same post in a surprising move.

Abdul Kalam showed interest in becoming the President of India again, but later withdrew from the race when it became clear that he did not have numbers. His image remained intact thanks to quick realization of politics behind announcing his name from nowhere by opportunistic political parties.

In his latest book, “Turning Points – A Journey Through Challenges“, Kalam gives us insight about why he chose to become the President of India in 2002, and the same motivation might have crept in his mind in 2012 for his initial inclination for running for the post again.

The reason he chose to say yes when Vajpayee asked him to become President was to realize his ‘India 2020’ dream by putting forward his vision before the nation and the Parliament. Vision 2020 – that grand vision for India to make it a developed nation by 2020 – is what Kalam breathes, and tries to inspire youth to strive towards achieving this goal.

Unfortunately, in this sequel to his earlier book ‘Wings Of Fire‘ which covered his life till 1992, there is a heavy dose of ‘India 2020 vision’ but less of personal anecdotes. Because it is said to be his ‘autobiography’ one would certainly have high expectations about life of this great personality who had the opportunity to participate and witness some of the momentous events in India in recent times.

From 1992 to 2012 Kalam served nation in various capacities – he was adviser to defence minister, head of some of defence research institutes, national scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, and then the President of India – during which he witnessed India grow from strength to strength from 1992 ignominy of begging IMF to becoming the one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Surely, he had more interesting stories to share from his personal point of view, but he consciously chooses to avoid sharing such events in this book. He also reveals that he declined to be a cabinet minister in Vajpayee’s government in 1998 – which makes it clear that he had unparalleled access to important government functionaries at the time.

He was still a scientist at that time, and it is rare for Prime Ministers to ask someone outside from politics to become part of government.

Instead ‘Turning Points’ is a more of a blueprint for making India a developed country by suggesting measures to make Judiciary, Parliament, and Executive more efficient in their functioning, and quite annoyingly all suggestions are in ‘points’ like in textbooks.

For example, there are: ‘ten’ pillars of development; ‘five’ causes of delay in delivering justice by courts and ‘nine’ suggestions to make them efficient; ‘four’ points on meaning of development of villages; and some ‘seventeen’ points for making our Parliament ‘functional’.

Kalam is basically a teacher, a patriot and a humble human being. This is reflected copiously in his book. The book reads like a lecture and avoids use of ‘I’ wherever it is possible.

This is its handicap. We miss out ‘autobiography’ of Kalam, and instead read about his vision for India and what measures he took during his presidency to realize some of them –  which is already in public domain in the form of numerous lectures and also there is a dedicated website for it.

When the news was out that Kalam had written his ‘second’ autobiography, the media, both print and electronic mainly focused on two revelations: one, about Rashtrapati Bhavan inviting Sonia Gandhi to form government in 2004 in spite of opposition from many quarters; and second, about  his offer of resignation when Supreme court held dissolution of Bihar assembly unconstitutional which he had signed from Moscow.

Also some media covered his withholding of his assent to ‘office of profit ‘ bill which was controversial. It is interesting to note that these events took place during UPA-I rule.

Kalam hopes that his book would be inspirational to its readers. But, the book would have been inspirational if it had revealed more about his life rather than his vision which is already known to those who have read his earlier books. To illustrate how he tries to make his point about use of technology(one of pillars of development) in speeding up decisions, he talks about dissolution of Bihar assembly in 2005 which he did from Moscow at the insistence of PM Dr Singh,  through an e-mail!

Though the decision was controversial and which led him to offer his resignation after Supreme Court’s ruling, and which ensued an emotional pleading by Dr Singh to save his government by taking back his decision to offer resignation, Kalam ends the episode by saying these words:

Very few people in the country are using e-governance, which I consider a tool for a borderless world. It is a facility I use liberally in India and abroad….” !

He calls Indira Gandhi ‘great stateswoman’; Dr Singh, ‘architect of economic reforms’ with an ‘impeccable image’ and in this way tries to be nice to every political leader he has met in his life.

His humility is evident throughout the book and he has made every effort to avoid any controversy that might arise from any revelations.

It is strange coincidence that the book was timed at the time of 2012 presidential elections for which his name was also dragged. For those who expect interesting anecdotes on Indian polity or even from Kalam’s own life, the book is a disappointment.

There are few occasions where he narrates stories about his father and brother, but in the end he shares moral lessons he learnt from those incidents – like in Panchtantra. But all the stories are incomplete.

‘Turning Points’ dwells less on turning points, but more on other ‘points’. Nonetheless, book is simple and ‘inspirational’ for those who have not read his earlier works.