President leads nation in paying tributes to Kalam

New Delhi


President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation on Tuesday in paying tributes to former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Thousands of people visited the 'Missile Man's' official residence here to pay their last respects to the "people's president" who collapsed while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong on Monday evening.

The two houses of Parliament were adjourned for two days as a mark of respect to Kalam as political parties gratefully recalled his contributions to the nation.

The union cabinet met in the morning to formally pay tributes to Kalam who rose from humble beginnings to become one of India's leading scientists and later a popular president.

Kalam's body, wrapped in the Tricolour, arrived on Tuesday at the Palam technical area of Indira Gandhi International Airport at around 12.30 p.m. in a special Indian Air Force plane.

After a ceremonial guard of honour at the airport in the presence of the three service chiefs, Kalam's mortal remains were brought in an army vehicle to his official residence at 10, Rajaji Marg in central Delhi.

Thousands of people visited his residence to pay homage as cries of "Abdul Kalam amar rahe" and "Long live Abdul Kalam" rent the air.

The prime minister and the president went to the airport to pay tributes to the late leader. Other dignitaries present at the airport included Vice President Hamid Ansari, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Delhi Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

While the central government declared a seven-day mourning on Monday, the Goa government declared a seven-day mourning on Tuesday. Kejriwal announced that the Delhi government will name its scheme providing educational loan up to Rs.10 lakh after Kalam.

Modi, who addressed a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentary party on Tuesday, paid glowing tributes to Kalam and said India had lost a "ratna (jewel)".

Kalam was president from 2002-2007 and assumed the highest office when BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power.

Modi said Kalam was "rashtra ratna" (country's jewel) and his "personality was special".

"His life inspires us; it inspires the youth," Modi said.

The former president died on Monday evening in a private hospital in Shillong after he collapsed while delivering a lecture on 'Liveable Planet' to students of the Indian Institute of Managment, Shillong.

Kalam will be accorded a state funeral with full military honours at 11 a.m. on Thursday at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. His family had wished that his last rites be performed in his hometown.

After the Lok Sabha met on Tuesday morning, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan read out a condolence message and said Kalam was a "real gem" of the country and a "sagacious statesman".

The members stood in silence for two minutes to pay their respects.

In the Rajya Sabha, Chairman Hamid Ansari said the country had lost a true son. "His contributions to the nation as a man of technology, a teacher and a leader will be deeply cherished by a grateful nation," he said.

Both houses will now have their next sitting on July 30.

The union cabinet, which met on Tuesday to pay its condolences to Kalam, said the country lost a visionary scientist, a true nationalist and a great son.

"Kalam made significant contribution in developing India's first indigenous satellite launch vehicle and made India an exclusive member of space club," the resolution said, adding that strategic missile systems were developed and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted during Kalam's term as scientific advisor to the defence minister.

It said Kalam was responsible for evolving policies, strategies and missions for many development applications and piloted India Millennium Mission 2020.

Born on October 15, 1931 at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Kalam specialised in aeronautical engineering from Madras Institute of Technology.

He was the recipient of many national and international awards, including honorary doctorates from 48 universities from India and abroad. He received the country's highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, in 1997.

Tributes continued to pour in for Kalam with political leaders from the BJP, CPI-M and the Congress recalling his decades of dedicated service to the country in various fields. - IANS