How Kalam’s chat with Biju Patnaik gave wings to India’s missile dreams

Abdul Kalam, Wheeler Island, Biju Patnaik, Odisha, PV Narasimha Rao, China, India, Missile
Former president of India and missile scientist Dr APJ Abdul Abdul Kalam was one of the simplest men but also very cunning | Image - Eunice Dhivya

On one fine forenoon in 1993, four men stood inside the Chief Minister’s office in the imposing Odisha Secretariat building in Bhubaneswar. Besides the then-chief minister, the maverick Biju Patnaik and his trusted principal secretary, Aurobindo Behera, the other two were an ordinary looking Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and secretary, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and his colleague, another scientist, RK Sahoo, who was later conferred AVSM before he retired as Major General. The important meeting lasted all of less than half an hour.

Kalam had gone through the Odisha bureaucracy for the Wheeler Island on the Bay of Bengal in Bhadrak district to build a missile testing facility. “Even after close to a year, nothing, no reply was coming from the Odisha government,” recalls Sahoo.

Meanwhile, Kalam had appraised of it to the Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, who gave the former a letter addressed to Patnaik. Seeking Patnaik’s intervention, Kalam, armed with Rao’s letter, had arrived in Bhubaneswar.

“As soon as we reached his office, the tall Biju Patnaikji walked up to the door and received Dr Kalam, I followed them. He seemed to be very fond of Dr Kalam, and addressed him as Dr. Saab,” recalls Sahoo.

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