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People's President is treated badly in India too

July 22, 2009 11:16 IST
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A source close to former President A P J Abdul Kalam tell's A Ganesh Nadar what happened on April 24 when the former head of State was frisked by Continental Airlines staff is not unusual.

"Yes it happened!"

"President Kalam did not object, did not discuss it or comment. He normally isn't bothered about such niceties and you don't expect him to go around telling people that he is a former President," the source said, speaking on condition that he would not be identified by name for this report.

No Delhi or central government protocol officer had accompanied the former President when the Continental Airlines staff insisted on frisking Kalam. "And when there is no protocol officer with him when he is in the national capital, it is foolish expecting anything in other countries."

Soon after his term as President ended the Indian embassy in Washington, DC assigned a protocol officer to Kalam when he visited the United States and also provided him security. That courtesy was reserved only for two visits, the staffer disclosed. Now when the former Rashtrapati visits the US, the source added, there is neither security nor protocol.

Indian missions in other countries too do not bother about providing Kalam with security or protocol.

However, when he visited Bangladesh recently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government accorded Kalam a State welcome, as did Ireland.

"It doesn't matter to Kalam as an individual, but it should matter to the office of President," the source pointed out. "The government may not respect him, but people do."

When Kalam takes a domestic flight, his car is permitted to travel up to the aircraft. He is accompanied by a policeman and his secretary. No protocol officer at any domestic airport receives him or bids him farewell.

The former President travels abroad extensively, and his sole aim is to promote India, the source noted. "He does that because he loves the country and if he doesn't get any security or protocol, he is least concerned about it."

"Whether he was upset when it (the Continental Airlines incident ) happened and now that it has become a national issue is not the issue. He has refused to comment on the matter. But we as citizens should be bothered about how a former President is treated. It is about the institution of the Presidency and not about any individual," the source added.

"The case about an American airline has come to light, but it is the same all over the world. There are people who respect him, love him and give him his due because of their personal regard for him. Few states grant him special status. He is a former President and the winner of the nation's highest honour, the Bharat Ratna. This should not be forgotten when people see him, interact with him."

"There is no person responsible for the former President's security. You should see the way the policemen and driver assigned to him behave," the source disclosed. "They play cards, they quarrel loudly amongst themselves. They treat it like a punishment posting and not a privilege to serve a former President."

But A P J Abdul Kalam -- whose humility is well-known -- prefers to ignore the slights to his status and continues to be the People's President, traveling far and wide (he will be 78 in October), spreading his gospel for a powerful India, powered and united by its people's potential.

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