NEW DELHI: The US Secret Service finally had its way getting President Barack Obama to travel in his armoured limousine to the Republic Day ceremony rather than sharing a ride with the Indian President as has been the convention of late. In another first, Secret Service agents were allowed inside the bullet-proof VVIP enclosure.
A glitch from the Indian side, however, has caught the attention of the highest levels in the government, officials with knowledge of the matter told ET. The VVIP enclosure didn’t have a roof, exposing the Obamas, President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a steady drizzle for the first half of the function, which lasted for 107 minutes.
The enclosure, in fact, has never had a roof as the idea has been to give those sitting inside an unhindered view of the highlight of the function, the fly-past by the Indian Air Force, government officials said. However, this turned out to be “embarrassing” on Monday as the US first lady, Michelle Obama, was seen holding an umbrella herself while attendants rushed in to provide umbrella cover to President Obama, President Mukherjee and PM Modi. Earlier, the US president was seen holding an umbrella on the podium while he waited for Mukherjee to arrive at the function.
“We may have a glass roof for the enclosure from next year. That should in fact be the template for a bullet-proof enclosure as is the case on Independence Day in the past years,” a government official said. “The CPWD (Central Public Works Department) and defence ministry have been asked to take due note…”
In fact, the much anticipated flypast was itself in doubt early morning given low visibility due to fog and rain. The fly-past is subject to “weather conditions”, the home ministry had said in a circular on January 19. The weather improved as the day progressed, allowing visibility to conduct the fly-past.
Before this, the US Secret Service had its way on both its key demands – having Obama travel in ‘The Beast’ and having its agents posted next to the Obamas inside the VVIP enclosure. At least three US agents could be spotted inside the enclosure, seated right behind the Obamas. They were sporting ear pieces and constantly seen speaking into them. An official said the Obamas travelling in their own vehicle was a foregone conclusion.
“One could not expect the Obama couple to fit into the rear seat of our President’s car with him … and the Americans were clear that the Obama couple would travel together. It was ensured by us that as per protocol, our President arrived after the Obamas did,” the official said.Nearly 500 US Secret Service agents were posted on Rajpath around the VVIP enclosure and high-rise buildings as snipers and US satellites kept a watch as well,officials said. Since Sunday, an airborne early warning and control ( AEWAC) remained deployed for the first time above Rajpath to detect air threats in the no-fly zone which was extended to aradius of 400 kilometers, up to the India-Pakistan border, for this Republic Day. Airports in Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Lucknow and Amritsar didn’t operate any flights during Republic Day function. The DGCA had issued a ‘NOTAM’ for diverting all flights flying over Delhi at the time of the parade.