Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was laid to rest on Thursday in Rameswaram with full military honours in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several other leaders who paid tributes to the man who strengthened India’s missile programme and played a key role in country’s 1998 nuclear test — making him a national hero.
The body of Kalam – warmly called the people’s president – was draped in the Indian tricolour and brought to the burial site at Pei Karumbu here in a flower-bedecked gun carriage, escorted by columns of the three armed services.
People in large numbers lined up along the route to catch a last glimpse of Kalam, the rocket and missile scientist who was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour – the Bharat Ratna – in 1997 and bid him a tearful final good-bye.
Many had climbed atop an under construction building and other buildings to see their illustrious son-of-the-soil.
People cutting across political, religious and other lines came in large numbers to Kalam’s native town to participate in his last journey.
Many could scarcely believe that he would no longer return to his hometown.
Kalam had died on Monday in Shillong after suffering a massive heart attack during a lecture he was delivering to students of Indian Institute of Management.
A 21-gun salute was accorded to the former supreme commander of the armed forces and a military band played the haunting ‘Last Post’.
After Kalam’s body was lowered into the earth, prayers were held following which the grave was closed and then covered with flower petals.
Modi, who arrived here, paid his last respects to the country’s youth icon and popular president by laying a wreath. he then stood in silence before the casket for a while.
The prime minister also went up to Kalam’s eldest brother, 99-year old Mohammed Muthu Meeran Lebbai Maraikayar and offered his condolences.
Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah, union Ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu, Manohar Parrikar and Pon Radhakrishnan, Tamil Nadu ministers O.Panneerselvam, and Natham R. Viswanathan and others also paid their last respects to Kalam.
Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam and Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy were also present, as was Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and his Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders also paid their last respects to Kalam.
Earlier the mortal remains of India’s eleventh president, who held office 2002-07, were taken to the family mosque for prayers.
His family members also reached here.
“All our relatives have also arrived to attend the last rites,” A.P.J.M.K. Sheik Saleem, the former president’s brother’s grandson, told media.
The Tamil Nadu government declared a public holiday on Thursday under the Negotiable Instruments Act. Banks, insurance companies, schools and colleges were closed throughout the state.
The government has also ordered closure of liquor shops and bars in the state.
Around 30,000 jewellery shops remained closed, while petrol bunks stopped sales for an hour between 10 a.m.and 11 a.m. as a mark of respect to Kalam.
Movie theatre owners too decided to shut down for the day while fishermen decided not to venture into the sea.
In Chennai, shops in busy commercial areas like Pondy Bazaar and T.Nagar remained shut. Shops in other localities were closed as a mark of respect to Kalam.
Political parties like the DMK and the AIADMK cancelled their functions.
Born in Rameswaram on October 15, 1931, Kalam, as a boy, hawked newspapers to supplement his family’s income. His father owned a boat and his mother struggled constantly to keep the family fed and clothed.
His sister pawned jewellery with a moneylender so that the studious Kalam could carry Rs.600 when he left Rameswaram to join the Madras Institute of Technology.
In 1958, Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
He moved to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he was project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III), which successfully injected the Rohini satellite in the near earth orbit in July 1980 and made India a member of the exclusive space club.
He was responsible for the evolution of ISRO’s launch vehicle programme, particularly the PSLV configuration.
He rejoined DRDO in 1982, and planned the programme that produced a number of successful missiles, earning him the “Missile Man” nickname.
Kalam took up the responsibility of developing indigenous weapons as the chief executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP).
He was responsible for the development and operationalisation of Agni and Prithvi missiles.
From 1992 to 1997, Kalam was scientific advisor to the defence minister, and later served as principal scientific advisor (1999-2001) to the government with the rank of cabinet minister.
Kalam played a prominent role in the country’s 1998 nuclear weapons tests, Pokhran-II, which made him a national hero.