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'Missile Man' Sworn in as Next Indian President - 2002-07-25

The former head of India's missile development program, APJ Abdul Kalam, has been sworn in as India's 12th president. It is a largely ceremonial post, but this is a presidency with a difference.

Mr. Kalam was sworn in at a colorful ceremony in the Indian parliament before hundreds of lawmakers. He then entered the stately presidential palace flanked by a presidential bodyguard on horses.

Few new presidents have gotten the attention Mr. Kalam has received since his selection by the country's major political parties. The choice of Mr. Kalam, a military scientist with no previous political experience, marked a break from tradition. Former Indian heads of state have been senior politicians or statesmen.

Mr. Kalam is India's third Muslim president. The choice of a Muslim is seen by analysts as a move by the ruling Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata party to bolster its secular credentials, following a wave of religious violence in the country earlier this year.

Mr. Kalam was born into a middle class family and began his working life selling newspapers. He went on to head India's missile development program and is known to most Indians as the "missile man."

Many Indians see his presidency as symbolic of the strength of India's democracy, that an ordinary, professional has risen to become the country's first citizen.

At Thursday's ceremony, Mr. Kalam said India should prepare to face the growing threats of terrorism, internal conflict and unemployment.

He spoke about his vision for India, the need to free the nation from poverty and illiteracy and the importance of technology in the country's development.

"What can be the vision? It can be none other than (to) transform India into a developed nation. Can government alone achieve this mission? Now, we need a movement in the country. This is the time to ignite the minds of the people for this movement," Mr. Kalam said.

Hundreds of Indians have welcomed the appointment of the new president.

Among them is Narayan Murthy, the founder of Infosys, India's leading information technology company. "For the first citizen of the country, to stress the importance of technology and knowledge in the modern world, I was very, very moved," Ms. Murthy said.

Despite the wide welcome given to Mr. Kalam, there is some unease about his lack of political experience. The post of president is largely ceremonial, but he plays a crucial role in deciding which party should form a government in the case of elections with no clear winner.