Book Review: Ignited Minds

Title: Ignited Minds, Unleashing the Power within India
Author: APJ Abdul Kalam (President of India)

I had always heard about Abdul Kalam as a nuclear scientist for a long time prior to his role as President of India. It is unusual for India to not have a conventional politician as the President. Historically, the President’s job is “assigned” either to a politician nearing retirement as a reward for loyalty/service, or to a potential PM aspirant (as a way of getting rid of him/her!).

Given the uniqueness of Mr. Kalam’s background in comparison to his predecessors, I was curious to get an insight to the person and his thinking. On reading his book, firstly, I was happy for India on a number of counts. Mr. Kalam is certainly inspirational and comes across as someone who really cares about the country, someone who is constantly thinking about how to make a difference, someone who is down to earth and sincere, and someone who has no political leanings whatsoever. I can’t think of any other country in the world where the Prime Minister and the President have such good credentials. I think it was a master stroke by Vajpayee to back a scientist for the Presidency. Lastly, a Muslim President from a BJP government is a noteworthy milestone.

This book is primarily meant to be a call to Indians (the younger generation in particular) to come together, “dream” and work towards transforming the country into a developed nation by the year 2020. The book certainly does justice to this goal. He clearly outlines five focus areas for the country to achieve this objective: agriculture and food processing, education and healthcare, IT, strategic sectors (nuclear, space, defence). He then delves into details on their inter-relationships and implications.

Its an easy read and filled with anecdotes about his visits to various part of India. A lot of it is about questions posed by the younger generation to him from various parts of the country. The book also captures his exchange with Swamijis, Sufis, CEOs, politicians, etc. Given his background as a scientist he covers historical information about the various research centers in India (VSSC, TIFR, DRDO, etc. ) .

While responding to specific questions posed to him in the book, the text does tend to wander sometimes without a formal closure to the answer. K. B Chandrasekhar of Exodus fame is mentioned in the book. “One fine morning he sold his 10-billion dollar company to start another enterprise” (As someone who lost $ from an Exodus investment I wonder where the President got his facts checked for this one!) Barring this, the book is a simple, enjoyable, inspirational read. I hope more of India’s political leaders took the time to capture their thoughts and vision for the country. Its a must read for India’s younger generation.

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5 Responses to Book Review: Ignited Minds

  1. Anonymous says:

    Pran-babu,

    I too like the kind of inspirational figure that Abdul Kalam strikes for young people. However, the main thing is that people can aspire to greatness and do great things, but the infrastructure should encourage that too. Policy wonks will tell you that a small change in the govt’s structure can have huge impact on a nation’s development. Take the electricity issue for instance. If a large %-age of the population doesn’t have access to it, it is quite disingenous to talk about designing the next super-duper-nuclear warhead as a nation’s goal.

    – Brotherman

  2. Anonymous says:

    He is not talking about just building the next war head. He has a broader view than that. He does talk about reaching out to villages (power, education being the priorities).

    Given all the problems (infrastructure etc.) India has come a long way.

    I just think its refreshing to hear forward looking view from the President. This is better than Zail Singh, Fakruddin, Venkataraman and others have offered. Most of them just spend their time visiting places and cutting ribbons. The guy has at least thought through the issues….

    -Pran

  3. Anonymous says:

    Boss, I have a lot of respect for Abdul Kalam. And I totally agree that he’s a huge leap forward from Fakruddin, Zail, Venkatraman, et al. He’s a man who has a brain and uses it to good effect. I haven’t read his book, but just from his speeches i hear him exhorting people to do their best but he didn’t talk about what needs to change from the govt side. If he has addressed that in his book, that’s great.

    Also, I agree that India has come a long way given all the problems. However, the reason I bring up the infrastructure issue is because the book is written by the President of India. Seeing how much Singapore and Taiwan have advanced through govts being more motivated I think India can be a whole lot more. That’s all.

    – Brotherman

  4. Anonymous says:

    The difference between India and other countries is that the President of India is only a figure head and has little/no power. He can only influence at best. I think he is doing a fine job of gearing up the people in general. This will automatically (slowly but surely) improve the accountability among the politicians. He does talk about improving infrastructure and stuff.

    Kalam is rooting for a fundamental change in attitude and approach which I think rises above fixing this and fixing that. A lot can happen by a change in mindset at the grassroots level.

    Its easy to blame the govt (like most NRIs love to do :-).
    -Pran

  5. Anonymous says:

    “Its easy to blame the govt (like most NRIs love to do :-).”

    Ok now you’ve got me upset! 🙂 My take is that the mindset at the grassroots isn’t changed by a book (however inspirational) by the President. I am well aware of the powers of the Indian President and the figurehead nature of the post. I’m actually saying that the economic liberalization started by the govt has done more than any positive thinking exhorted by any leader.

    By saying that everyone needs to take responsibility, the state cannot avoid their own responsibility of creating an infrastructure conducive to growth.

    -“Bother”man

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