Is the halo around A.P.J. Abdul Kalam the scientist wearing off? Beyond the pale of criticism for long, the former president is now in the middle of a controversy after he refuted the claims of K. Santhanam, a former nuclear scientist with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), that Pokhran-II had not delivered the expected results. Now more voices challenging Kalam have come out in the open and are getting louder.
First, Santhanam refused to buckle under. Instead, in a recent interview, he said: “Kalam is not a nuclear scientist. He is a missile scientist and was not there at that time. He is blissfully ignorant of the facts. Do I need to say more?” Former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman and the guiding force behind Pokhran-I in 1974, Homi Sethna, seconded him: “The former president was not a scientist and Santhanam is a physicist and he knew what he was talking. What does Kalam understand about physics?”
More support came from P.K. Iyengar, another former AEC chairman. He found it “strange” that the assessment was left to to Kalam. “If a case has been made against Kalam (since he was the chief coordinator of Pokhran-II), he can’t be the judge. This requires independent investigation,” he said. “Kalam is a good organiser, but he is not a geologist nor a seismologist. He didn’t use his independent judgement to determine what the yield was but went only by what Dr Chidambaram claimed.” Iyengar also claimed that an American scientist, whom he refused to name, had called him up a week after the 1998 explosions and enquired about the low yields. “Why is it that I get a yield of 20 kt when you guys are claiming 60 kt,” he reportedly asked Iyengar.
These questions have struck at the reverential image...