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New Delhi gripped by Bush fever
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | February 27, 2006 23:49 IST
Last Updated: February 28, 2006 10:12 IST
New Delhi is in the grip of Bush fever. The obsession over President George W Bush's security seems to have crossed all limits.
Worried about security arrangements, the Indian and American governments are being very restrained about announcements. Even two days before Bush's arrival, there has been no official announcement made. Faxes to media offices only state that 'media persons intending to cover forthcoming VVIP visit'... In fact, an invite to an event at the Purana Qilla, does not mention the time of the event.
While American staff must be lauded for the perfect manner in which they handle the President's security, it has petrified those who will be involved in India.
Staff at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi, where Bush will stay, are completely overawed. They are not allowed to speak with the media and do not even whisper about the possible schedule of Bush and his wife, Laura.
The senior officials at the American embassy refuse to answer questions about Bush's schedule in New Delhi. And Ambassador David Mulford, sober after the recent controversy over his remarks, is hardly uttering a word. Meanwhile, the buzz continues.
An unconfirmed report claims that American security officials wanted to handle Air Traffic Control themselves when Air Force One, the Presidential aircraft, arrives in New Delhi but the bizarre proposal was turned down. Indian engineers, they've been told, are capable of handling the situation but it would not be surprising if American officials are allowed to be around.
In international affairs, there are set protocols that are followed for the security of VVIP visitors. The number of advance teams that can visit, how many weapons and staffers are allowed with a visiting head of state and other such matters are usually run on a reciprocity basis. For example, Britain and Switzerland are very conservative about allowing a large number of weapons with an entourage.
American authorities always provide visiting Indian heads of state with transport; no cars or helicopters are taken along. But the US being what it is, American security staff seem to be getting away with more things than are allowed in their own country.
And the fact that their President is one of the most vulnerable persons on hit lists of several terrorist organisations, his security is of utmost concern.
At the moment, Delhi police and the Intelligence Bureau is jointly handling Bush's security arrangements on India's behalf. Renuka Mattoo, joint secretary of VIP security, is in charge in the IB. She has been informed about the arrangements made for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visited the US in 2005.
Several more weapons, gadgets, helicopters and personnel have already come to India from the US. While Dr Singh usually takes along about 30-40 security officers, the unofficial figure being quoted for Bush is around 500 officers. It is being said that 700 Indian and American security personnel will cordon off the route from the airport to Maurya Sheraton.
A senior police officer, who has handled several VVIP visits, points out that it has been an unequal relationship with the US as far as VVIP security is concerned. "When Dr Singh was in the US, security officers did not allow Indian officers to get on stage in one event. We had to make them understand our concerns," he said. Bush security, he said, is not being undermined at all.
Bush's visit to Hyderabad might be of special concern since the city is known to have some active ISI modules and Andhra Pradesh has been a witness to Maoist violence. However, no explicit death warnings have been issued though Maoist political wings have strongly opposed Bush's visit.