Rameswaram (TN) | In a spontaneous outpouring of grief, thousands of people bid an an emotional farewell to former President APJ Abdul Kalam who was today laid to rest with full state honours in his home town here amid chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
The body of Kalam was buried in the middle of a 1.5 acre piece of land earmarked for the purpose at Peikarumbu here after being brought from his family mosque where special prayers were offered.
The People’s President was accorded full military honours, including gun salute and playing of the Last Post as the members of his family and local Jamath lowered his mortal remains into a trench as slogans of Bharat Mata Ki Jai rent the air.
The funeral of the Missile Man was attended by a galaxy of leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who placed a wreath, offered his final salute and stood in silence in front of Kalam’s body that was draped in national flag. He also went around the casket with folded hands.
The Prime Minister later went up to Kalam’s eldest brother 99-year-old Mohammed Muthu Meeran Lebbai Maraicker, who was seated nearby, and offered his condolences. Congres Vice-President Rahul Gandhi also paid his last respects to Kalam, who died of cardiac arrest in Shillong on July 27.
Besides some foreign dignitaries, several leaders including Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, his cabinet colleague M Venkaiah Naidu and state Finance Minister O Panneerselvam were present.
Congress leader Gulam Nabi Azad and Chief Ministers of Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh Siddaramaiah Oommen Chandy and Chandrababu Naidu and CPI-M veteran V S Achuthanandan were also among those who paid their homage.
The three services chief also paid their respects to their former Supreme Commander. Earlier, a large number of teary-eyed mourners swarmed the carriage carrying his mortal remains and briskly moved with it on the last journey of the 83-year old scientist.
Condolences poured in from the country and across the world, paying respects to the affable man who endeared himself to the masses with his simplicity.
Tight security, including deployment of Naval, Coast Guard and Marine police personnel in the sea around the town, was put in place in view of the convergence of several dignitaries.
A large number of mourners were seen perched on roof-tops and trees both near his house and the burial ground to catch a glimpse of the late leader, who rose from humble beginnings. Kalam had his initial schooling here.
Municipal authorities had laid a special approach road to the place of burial for facilitating movement of the carriage and VIPs. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had expressed her inability to attend the funeral citing health grounds.
Modi, who arrived by a special helicopter at nearby Mandapam, drove to this island town in his bullet-proof car amidst tight security.
Earlier, as part of the last rites for the departed soul, a ‘Namaz-e-Janaza’ was held here with the ‘Aalin’ or Chief Priest reading out prayers, which was later repeated at the burial site. The state government was represented by senior Ministers including Panneerselvam.
Tamil Nadu government had announced a public holiday today, with state-run liquor outlets and bars closed as a ‘mark of respect’ for Kalam, who served as the President of the country from 2002-07.
The country’s first bachelor President, Kalam had received several prestigious awards including Bharat Ratna, and played a crucial role when India tested its nuclear weapons at Pokhran in 1998 when the Vajpayee government was in power.
Gloom and poignancy was palpable in this island town as supporters of Kalam streamed in from different parts of the country, as far as from Punjab and West Bengal, to pay their last respects, giving ample signs of his popularity. People swarmed the town to see-off their favourite ‘Kalam Sir’ on his final journey, with scores of them carrying the Indian tricolour and placards hailing the former President.
They kept pouring in through the night by various transport including buses, trains and boats to attend the last rites and many of them even slept on the roads last night. Shops, business establishments and hotels remained shut in the town and throughout Tamil Nadu as a mark of respect to the late leader fondly called the People’s President.
Moist eyes and tributes among people was a common sight as mourners bid one last farewell to Kalam. A small town citizen who later rose to become the first citizen of India, Kalam’s life is an illustrious example of hardwork and dedication. A soft-spoken genial man, his scientific exploits call for an exhaustive resume.
Whether mastering the launch vehicle technology in his days at ISRO or later exploring through missile technology in DRDO, Kalam left his indelible signature in India’s science and Defence programmes.
An avid backer of nuclear technology, the visionary Kalam was an integral part of the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests undertaken by the A B Vajpayee-led NDA Government.
The veteran scientist also backed the controversial Indo-Russian joint venture Koodankulam Nuclear power project in the state, which was strongly opposed by the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). Having risen through the ranks of the Indian scientific community, Kalam inspired many of his fellow citizens, especially youngsters, urging them to have a dream, for the progress of themselves and the country.
This instantly struck a chord with youngsters and students, with aspiring engineers, doctors and scientists looking upon him as a living example worth emulating.
The former President has been ‘trending’ on the online fora, with thousands of Twitterati and Facebook users heaping encomiums on him.
While some shared their fortunate moments with him, others recalled his inspirational quotes to pay tributes to him.
A slew of demands have already been made to record Kalam’s name in posterity, by constructing memorial or re-naming Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) here, where he did aeronautical engineering, after him.
The last rites of Kalam were performed by Moulavi S M Abdul Rahman. After the body was lowered, members of the jamad offered prayers and took turns to fill the pit with showels of sand. After the pit was closed, bags of flower petals were showered on it.
Kalam’s 99-year old brother was seen wiping his tears frequently as he watched the ceremony from a distance. He was seated in a chair due to his old age. Various organisations, including the Ramakrishna Mutt and local rotary club, provided food and water for the people who had come to the island town to pay homage to Kalam. Meanwhile, silent processions by students, candle light prayers and floral tributes to the the ‘Missile Man’ were held in different parts of the state.
A Coimbatore report said that almost all shops, traders and hotels downed their shutters in Coimbatore, Tirupur and Nilgiris districts as a mark of respect to Kalam.
In Coimbatore and nearby towns in the district, even petty shops and medical shops remained closed in response to the call given by various merchants associations. Theatres also cancelled their shows.
Tourist spots like Udhgamandalam or Ooty as it is popularly known, Gudalur and Coonoor in Nilgiris district wore a near deserted look as not many people visited these towns following the holiday declared by the State government.
In Tirupur knitwear manufacturers too had declared a holiday today.
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