India 2020 by APJ Abdul Kalam and YS Rajan: Book Review

15th October marks the birth anniversary of Shri APJ Abdul Kalam, the most loved President of India. He lives in our hearts with his simplicity and remarkable achievements.

India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium’ was written by APJ Abdul Kalam with Y.S.Rajan and published in 1998.

After APJ Abdul Kalam became India’s President, ‘India 2020’ gained unprecedented popularity and was viewed as the collective vision of the Indians to see ourselves as a developed nation in 2020.

This book shows the clarity with which Kalam understood India and his vision that went beyond the rhetoric.

India 2020’ is based on the experience gained by APJ Abdul Kalam and Y.S.Rajan, the two scientists who extensively worked across India and collaborated on this book with strategy documents and extensive interviews conducted to collect information from about 5000 people.

APJ Abdul Kalam had this earnestness in his words, his background stood as proof to his hard work and his dedication for this nation. He had believed that a developed India was not just an aspiration and we were capable of achieving it by 2020 or even earlier.

The book begins with the references on the GDP, other growth parameters and a stagnant income distribution pattern between 1960-1994.

‘We believe that as a nation and as a people we need to shed our cynicism and initiate concrete action to realize the second vision for the nation. The first vision, seeded around 1857, was for India to become politically independent; the second one is to become a fully developed nation.

When the authors point at shedding our cynicism, they specifically mention the fact that this chapter was written before the nuclear tests on 11th May 1998. Therefore, their level of optimism and belief in this book is reinforced.

In the ancient and medieval times, we were renowned for our skills in medicine, metallurgy, construction, textiles, hydraulics and early shipbuilding. It was the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the internal combustion engine which eluded India. Later the advancements in the manufacturing sector of Europe, also did not reach us. These two things came to India during the colonial period and with the limitations under the foreign subjugation, never thrived.  

I felt proud reading the introduction of the second chapter. Kalam and Rajan mirror the persistent mindsets of the Indians in having a ‘blind admiration’ of anything done outside our borders and vouching for the ‘mythical foreign superiority’. Kalam interweaves this text with anecdotes of heated discussions and arguments. There is a reference to the military-powdered rockets used by Tipu Sultan in the two battles of Seringapattam, the first such weaponry use in the world. It is appalling to note how the British kept the records of the improvements made on Tipu Sultan’s rockets whereas we never bothered to find out about his engineers or the production details to achieve such large scale output.

A comparative study on the development achieved by Malayasia, China, Japan, South Korea and Israel is quite interesting. The development is cited through the reference of each of these countries weaknesses and their strategies to overcome it. Today, these five nations have taken lead in many aspects of development and put their stake at the international level.

The book is interesting particularly in taking you back to the scenario and the discourse that existed in the late 1990s. We were afraid of the international sanctions. Our political decisions related to the economy had to deal with the brunt of international alignments. And, our international relations and influences were on a shaky, negative turf.

The authors emphasize the importance of space research programme in the development of the nation. And, also links it with other industries. In one such case, Kalam cites the requirement sought for beryllium-based products during the development stage of SLV-3, it had to be imported but many countries refused to do so. On doing some research, he came to know that beryllium was found in India but we lacked the technology to convert this ore to metal. Later ISRO and Bhabha Atomic Research Center set up a beryllium machining facility at Vashi, Mumbai.

‘India 2020’ book has 13 chapters. And, 8 chapters are dedicated to sector-wise analysis on the current state and the strategies to be undertaken – Agriculture, Food and processing, Industries – mineral based and chemical, Manufacturing, Service, Defence, Health and Enabling Infrastructure. The major thrust is towards making technological advancements, establishing inter-linkages and becoming self-reliant.

We are a divided country where the rich live the luxurious lifestyle of the West, the middle class aspires to achieve that life but has limited resources and then the poor confronted with the constant struggle to make their ends meet.

“Well I would not like to give any special message to young children because they themselves are born with the message. They are fresh. I would therefore appeal to the parents and teachers not to pollute their fresh minds with our own frustrations. If we can instead convey to them a message about a bright future and encourage them, that will be a great service we will be doing to them and also to the country.”

Today, we may still be struggling and gripped in pessimism so what better than to read Kalam’s vision for the nation. And, get back on track with our little efforts to make this vision come true.

You may also like to read The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

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