Nuclear Scientist Is New President of India

A missile scientist who advocates nuclear weapons as a war deterrent was elected India's ceremonial president Thursday. 

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam won 89.58 percent of the votes cast on Tuesday by 4,896 members of the national Parliament and the state legislatures, according to the Parliament Presidential Election Cell, which supervised the balloting. 

The only other candidate was Lakshmi Sehgal, a woman proposed by the leftist parties. 

Kalam, 70, told reporters Thursday that the alleviation of poverty and development of rural areas are important issues for India. 

"India has to be transformed into a developed nation ... a prosperous nation, and a healthy nation, with a value system," Kalam said. 

He also said his scientific career prepared him for politics. Kalam helped develop missiles to carry nuclear weapons and rockets to launch satellites. 

"Unless political decisions are taken, the satellite won't be in orbit, the missile won't reach its target, the nuclear weapon won't be there," Kalam said. 

With gray, shoulder-length hair and a wardrobe of short-sleeved shirts and flip-flop sandals, Kalam is expected to bring more informality to the 340-room presidential palace. 

He will be sworn in as India's 12th president on July 25, replacing Kocheril R. Narayanan, who completed a five-year term. 

Kalam, an advocate of scientific education for children, has insisted his presidency would not signal warlike intentions from India. 

Instead, it would show the world "technology is going to be used for development of the nation." 

Born Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam on Oct. 15, 1931, he began his early education at a village school in the southern port of Rameshwaram. He later received a degree in aeronautical engineering. 

For many Indians, Kalam's rise — from humble beginnings as the son of an illiterate boatman in Tamil Nadu state to the top of India's scientific and political establishments — symbolizes the strength of India's democracy. 

Critics, however, worry he does not have enough political experience to handle India's chaotic and fractured system. 

Though the office is largely ceremonial, the president can play a crucial role. If Parliament is deadlocked, his verdict is final. He can call elections or decide which party gets the chance to form a government. 

Although born to Muslim parents, Kalam does not describe himself as Muslim. He reads Hindu scriptures each day and is a vegetarian. 

When asked about who would act as his first lady, the unmarried Kalam waved his hands and said, "No, no, I'm a brahmacharya." The Hindu word means someone who has given up worldly pleasures, including sex and marriage.