Former Indian president Abdul Kalam had a bigger impact on the Swiss people than current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as seen during Modi’s recent trip to Switzerland. On the first anniversary of Kalam’s death, swissinfo.ch catalogues his 2005 visit.
Modi may have over 21 million Twitter followers, and he single-handedly filled New York City’s 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden in 2014, but in Switzerland, Kalam remains the real rock star.
His 2005 visit was the first by an Indian head of state since V.V. Giri in 1970. And he didn’t disappoint, spending two full days in the Alpine nation charming everyone he met from goatherds to the country’s best scientists.
Unlike Modi, who only spent a few hours in Switzerland this June before jetting off to the US, Kalam took the time to forge relations with Swiss politicians and get a feel for the country.
He certainly struck a personal chord with former Swiss president Samuel Schmid.
Schmid returned the favour by joining the press in capturing the Indian president's best side on a cruise in the Interlaken region.
Kalam also travelled to the Bernese Oberland region – a popular backdrop for India’s world-famous Bollywood film industry. Local villagers put on a folk performance in his honour and the spontaneous Kalam tried his hand at the Alphorn.
As a renowned scientist himself, Kalam visited almost of all of Switzerland’s science-related attractions. The physicist president first visited Albert Einstein’s former home in Bern. It was exactly 100 years ago in this modest apartment that Einstein churned out some of his most significant physics papers. A nice coincidence that did not escape Kalam’s attention.
“Your country has always been a great seat of learning and the fertile minds Switzerland has nurtured is testimony to these credentials,” he said in a speech.
He also visited the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, CERN, in Geneva as well as the federal institutes of technology in Zurich and Lausanne to get a glimpse of Swiss innovation.
However, contrary to some reports in the Indian media, Switzerland did not declare May 26 as Science Day in honour of his visit.
"Science was a important theme during his visit but no such day was declared," a spokesperson for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs told swissinfo.ch.