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India's Presidential Nominee Is Man With Unusual Profile

India's next president is expected to be A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a top scientist in the country's nuclear and missile program. His nomination has sparked widespread interest due to the unusual profile of the man who will occupy the largely ceremonial post.

Mr. Kalam, 72, is neither a politician nor a statesman. He is known in India as "the missile man," a middle-class Muslim who made it to the top of the scientific profession.

Mr. Kalam strongly defends India's nuclear program. He said the development of nuclear weapons prevented a war between India and Pakistan, whose troops have been facing off for the past six-months in Kashmir.

"This nuclear deterrent has helped both sides not to engage in a big war to avoid the nuclear war," Mr. Kalam said.

Mr. Kalam was nominated Tuesday by the governing BJP-led coalition, and the main opposition Congress Party. The support of India's two main political parties makes his victory a foregone conclusion in the July 15 presidential poll. The president is selected by federal and state lawmakers.

Mr. Kalam denies his association with the country's nuclear and missile program will send a wrong signal to the international community. He says the choice of a scientist as president symbolizes India's desire to use technology for the development of the country.

But many people in India have been surprised by the choice.

Political analysts say the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party wants to send a right signal to the minority Muslim community by choosing a Muslim to be the country's constitutional head. Earlier this year, the party faced widespread allegations of being anti-Muslim after bloody communal riots in Gujarat state killed nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Party managers feel putting Mr. Kalam in the presidential palace could help counter some of that criticism. Mr. Kalam calls the Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat painful, and deflects questions with more questions read from a prepared text.

"Can the political leaders turn into political leaders with compassion? Can our education system work for 100 percent literacy? This integrated effort may give a solution for such type of problem," Mr. Kalam said.

Many members of India's middle class feel Mr. Kalam's choice is an acknowledgement of the contribution highly educated professionals have made to the country. They also see him as a breath of fresh air in the murky world of politics, tainted by endless stories of corruption and kickbacks.

"He is a pretty learned man. He has done a lot for the country," one person said.

"He is absolutely untainted, and it is about time we are able to show the world, and ourselves, and the younger generation that we can also have leaders who are untainted, and who are not corrupt," another said.

The domestic media has also focused attention on Mr. Kalam's silver, shoulder-length hair, his disregard for formal dress, his simple life style and his habit of lecturing people like a teacher. Observers ask how the contrast will work in New Delhi's stately presidential palace, which often hosts visiting presidents and prime ministers.