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'Missile man' claims Indian presidency

A.P.J. Kalam
A.P.J. Kalam brings an element of religious unity to the presidency  

Staff and wires

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- The former head of India's nuclear program A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will be the country's next president after receiving nearly 90 percent of legislators' vote, a count of the ballots revealed Thursday.

Kalam, 70, was backed by the country's ruling National Democratic Alliance and the opposition Congress party for the ceremonial post. He was expected to easily win the presidency.

The electoral college, who selects the president, gave 922,884 votes to Kalam and 107,366 to his closest rival, Lakshmi Sehgal.

Legislators across the country voted Monday.

Kalam, who is a devout Muslim in the majority Hindu country, will take office on July 25. The former rocket scientist is expected to bring an air of informality to India's government.

He symbolizes his country's political and strategic ambitions. For more than four decades, he worked in India's defense laboratories, spearheading its space and nuclear-capable missile program (Profile).


'Get a haircut' voters tell new president 
CNN's Ram Ramgopal reports that A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the next president of India, is a Muslim well-versed in Hindu scriptures and a scientist who believes in nuclear deterrence.

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He's the first man from the defense establishment to be nominated to a post normally reserved for politicians.

At a time of heightened tensions with neighboring nuclear rival Pakistan, the Indian government's choice of candidate might seem a little surprising.

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

Kalam's Muslim background is significant, given his nomination comes at a time when the Vajpayee's National Democratic Alliance coalition is under fire for being anti-Muslim.

The accusations stem from the government's failure to halt sectarian rioting in the western state of Gujarat in which at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed.

No first lady

Opposition parties and human rights groups say the chief minister of Gujarat, a member of Vajpayee's party, did nothing to halt the violence and may actually have given his support to it.

Vajpayee himself has refused to order the chief minister to stand down, but the charges have hit the government's popularity and placed strains on the coalition.

By nominating a man with a Muslim background, and one who is highly regarded across India, some analysts say the government may be trying to repair its battered image and deliver a presidential election free from political rivalries.

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.


• Indian cabinet gets makeover
July 2, 2002

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