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Ex-president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam dies at 83, pushed for a nuclear India

Then-Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2007 during his visit to the European parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Then-Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2007 during his visit to the European parliament in Strasbourg, France.

(CHRISTOPHE KARABA / EPA)

Former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, known as the father of the country’s military missile program, died Monday after collapsing while delivering a lecture, a top state official said. He was 83.

Kalam was the nation’s president from 2002 until 2007, and for decades had been a leading scientist and science administrator.

He played a key organizational and technical role in pushing for a nuclear India and was widely known in the country as the “missile man.”

Kalam became sick Monday while addressing the students of the Indian Institute of Management in the Meghalaya state capital, Shillong, said P.B. Warjri, chief secretary of the state. He was rushed to the hospital but was declared dead after doctors could not revive him, Warjri said.

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The federal government will declare seven days of national mourning for him, said federal Home Secretary L.C. Goyal. Kalam’s body will be flown to New Delhi on Tuesday for burial.

India’s president, Pranab Mukherjee, said Kalam “would be long remembered for his passion for science and innovation and his contribution as an eminent scientist, administrator, educationist and writer.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Kalam “took India to great heights. He showed the way.”

Sonia Gandhi, the president of the opposition Congress Party, described Kalam as “one of the greatest scientific minds, a scholar-statesman and a true patriot who inspired millions of young and old alike by his works and deeds.”

Born Oct. 15, 1931, Kalam had little political experience when he became a presidential candidate. But his lack of political exposure played to his advantage, making him attractive to the millions of Indians fed up with the corrupt and often inept political establishment.

After his presidential term ended, Kalam traveled to remote schools and colleges, speaking to students and inspiring them to follow their dreams.

Even after he left office, he received hundreds of emails each day from high school students and other young people seeking his advice. He would reply to most of the students who wrote to him.

He authored several books, notably “Wings of Fire,” “India 2020” and “Ignited Minds.”

Kalam had a humble beginning. His father owned boats, which he rented out to local fishermen. Kalam used to describe himself as “Made in India,” as he never trained abroad.

news.obits@latimes.com

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