Fed up with the taunts of the BJP that he was a 'weak' prime minister before his government fell, Inder Kumar Gujral decided that he would tell Indians and the world how much he preferred Indian security. He decided to confer Bharat Ratna on APJ Abdul Kalam, known as 'Missile Man'. Earlier in 1952, no scientist except CV Raman was considered worthy of this award.
On March 1, 1998, Kalam was nervous at the Bharat Ratna award ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan and was seen repeatedly touching his blue stripe tie. Kalam was irritated by such formal occasions where he had to wear clothes in which he would never find himself comfortable. He never liked wearing a suit. Even he always preferred to wear sports shoes instead of leather shoes.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the first to congratulate him after receiving the Bharat Ratna. Vajpayee's first meeting with Kalam was in August 1980 when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called him and Professor Satish Dhawan to meet prominent MPs after the successful launch of SLV3.
When Kalam got a glimpse of this invitation, he got nervous and said to Dhawan, Sir, I have neither suit nor shoes. I have Le De Meri Cherpu (Tamil word for sandal). Then Satish Dhawan smilingly told him, 'Kalam you are already wearing a suit of success. To reach there under any circumstances.
Vajpayee invited Kalam to become a minister
Famous journalist Raj Chengappa writes in his book 'Weapons of Peace', 'When Indira Gandhi introduced Kalam to Atal Bihari Vajpayee in that meeting, he embraced Kalam instead of shaking hands with him. On seeing this, Indira Gandhi smiled mischievously and she took a pinch of Vajpayee and said, 'Atal Ji but Kalam is a Muslim.' Vajpayee then replied, "Yes, but those Indians are first and a great scientist".
18 days later, when Vajpayee became Prime Minister for the second time, he invited Kalam to join his cabinet. If Kalam had become Raju for this, Vajpayee would have got not only a capable minister but a message to Muslims across India that he would not be ignored in the BJP government.
Kalam considered this proposal for a full day. The next day he met Vajpayee and very politely declined the post. He said that the 'defense research and nuclear testing program is in its final stages. They can better serve the country by fulfilling their current responsibilities. ' After the nuclear explosion in Pokhran two months later, it became clear why Kalam did not accept that position.
Vajpayee chose Kalam for the post of President
On June 10, 2002, APJ Abdul Kalam received the message of Dr. Kalanidhi, Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, that the Prime Minister's Office is trying to contact him, so you immediately go to the Vice Chancellor's office so that you can talk to the Prime Minister. As soon as he was connected to the Prime Minister's Office, Vajpayee got on the phone and said, 'Kalam saheb country needs you as President'. Kalam thanked Vajpayee and said that I need an hour to consider this offer. Vajpayee said, 'You must take the time, but I want yes from you, no.'
By evening, NDA convenor George Fernandes, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati held a joint press conference and announced Kalam's candidature. When Dr. Kalam arrived in Delhi, he was welcomed at the airport by Defense Minister George Fernandes.
Kalam preferred to stay at the DRDO Guest House in Asiad Village. On June 18, 2002, Kalam filed his nomination papers in the presence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his cabinet colleagues. While filling the form, Vajpei joked with him that 'You too are a virgin like me', then Kalam replied amid laughter, 'Prime Minister, I am not only a virgin but also a brahmachari.'
Story of becoming a Kalam suit
After Kalam became the President, the biggest problem came that what would he wear? Kalam, who has been wearing a blue shirt and sports shoes for years, could not wear all that as president. There was a tailor from Rashtrapati Bhavan who stitched the suits of many previous presidents. One day, he also measured Doctor Kalam.
Kalam's biographer and colleague Arun Tiwari writes in his book 'APJ Abdul Kalam a Life', 'A few days later the tailor stitched four new bandhgala suits for Kalam. In a few minutes, Kalam's body of careless clothes always changed, but Kalam himself was not happy with it. He told me, 'I cannot breathe in this. Can there be any change in its cut? '
Troubled tailors kept thinking what to do. Kalam himself advised that you cut it a little from near the neck. Since then, this cut suit of Kalam came to be called 'Kalam suit'. The new president also hated wearing a tie. He suffocated with a tie like a tight-necked suit. Once I saw him cleaning his glasses with his tie. I told him that you should not do this. His answer was, the tie is a completely purposeless garment.