The nation remembers its 11th President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in many forms – missile man, space scientist, nuclearization leader and people’s President. But one common trait which runs through all his roles was his unflinching optimism and devotion to being productive for the nation. The year 2020 marks a landmark year – it is the milestone of the Vision 2020, which he laid down two decades ago as a pathway to an economically developed India with societal inclusion. The cornerstone of this vision relied on three principal factors – we need to realize and unleash our potential as a nation, we need to build an economy based on technological leadership and finally, we need a balanced growth model where rural and urban can not only co-exist but thrive together. In hindsight, though, when technology has leaped forward and there is so much more now by way of economic growth and consumer choice, one wonders why that period still seems full of wonder and possibilities. There were widespread disparities, however, and serious problems that refused to go away.
India as a developed country, one that could hold its own among advanced nations, provide a decent living standard for its people, offer healthcare systems that worked, and build schools that provided an education to launch children on a journey of curiosity and towards knowledge was, therefore, an exciting idea. The book, as I envisaged it, would offer an alternative to political fluff, those wretched promises one had grown tired of hearing, made cynically by politicians looking for re-election – housing for all, education and healthcare, telephones easily available. Those were the landline days, and providing telephones meant laying thousands of miles of cables and setting up exchanges. It wasn’t going to happen.
The purpose was to provide specific, segment-wise targets, and a way to get there within a timeframe. The areas covered were in part technological, as they had to be – food, agriculture and processing; materials and the future; strategic industries. There were also chapters on what was needed from people themselves to realise the vision. The emphasis was on being positive and willing to work for the general good. Some of the targets may have been unrealistic, but this was in a sense a draft document. Notably, it was an inclusive picture, leaving out no one, including the marginal farmer. There was no discrimination here on any grounds, faith, social status, caste, no ideological baggage, nothing divisive, nothing that stoked dislike or hatred, no gloom or doom. A series of meetings took place with YS Rajan, a colleague and friend of Kalam’s, who could pull ideas out at will from the interstices of his thick, greying hair (the beard followed later) as we tried to work on an outline. Some weeks on, a TIFAC report which examined the growth potential in different sectors with 2020 as the target year came up, and the project was suddenly clear – the book was on.
The authors had a busy schedule, and sometimes used to travel out of town to one of the research or missile launch centres in Odisha or in South India to find some quiet and workspace. Much of the manuscript was written by hand and then typed out – Rajan would complain of arthritic fingers for months afterwards from writing for long periods at a fast pace.