Around 1,600 American security personnel are expected to be in India during President Barack Obama visit. This is double the number of US officials who came here during the US President's last visit in 2010. He will be the chief guest during India's Republic Day function in Delhi. US security delegations have been landing in India for the past few weeks, since the time Obama's visit to India was confirmed in November. An advance delegation that was in India last week to prepare ground for Obama's visit held discussions with their Indian counterparts. Most of them were security and intelligence personnel from the US secret service and CIA.
In 2010, during Obama's visit to India the total number of officials involved were around 800. “This time President's engagements are significantly outdoors and more complex than his last visit,” an official said. Last time, some 40 aircraft were involved in ferrying officials and secure vehicles for the President's visit.
Obama would be spending almost two hours in the open at the Republic Day parade along Rajpath on January 26. An advance security team of the US that visited Rajpath had expressed serious concerns about the vulnerability of the arena. However, the Indian side assured them that its years of practiced drill is foolproof, and that they have also started installing CCTV cameras along the stretch.
Further tightening the security for the parade, the government is also expected to reduce the number of passes issued to public. According to officials, the US side has also been suggesting several other measures to further sanitize venues of Obama's visit. Among the steps would be to keep stray dogs away from those areas to be accessed by the US President.
India turns down no-fly zone request
India has politely turned down a suggestion by US security teams that a 5-km “no-fly zone” be imposed around Rajpath during the Republic Day parade. A no-fly zone would have led to the customary flypast on January 26 being cancelled. “The US team was told that this was simply not possible,” said a source. The US security detail was apparently in touch with the Dectorate General of Civil Aviation about the no-fly zone but the proposal was shot down by military authorities. “In any case, only twin-engine military aircraft and helicopters fly during the Republic Day parade. The actual flypast duration over Rajpath is around 10 minutes. Otherwise, throughout the year, there is a no-fly zone over Rashtrapati Bhavan, South and North Blocks, the PM's residence and other nearby places,” he added.
Sources said 18 fighter jets, five aircraft and 10 helicopters will take part in the flypast this year, flying at heights from 60 metre to 300-metre above the ground. It will include the Navy's first supersonic fighter MiG-29K as well as IAF fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs and Jaguars, which will take off from different airbases in north India and converge over the Rajpath.
US warns Pakistan
The US has asked Pakistan to ensure that there is no cross-border terror incident during Obama's visit and hinted of consequences if any such attack is traced back to the country. The warning has been issued keeping in mind the record of Pakistan-based terror groups that have regularly carried out terror strikes coinciding with visits of high-profile dignitaries to India from the US.
Meanwhile, the India government said it would do everything to ensure his convenience and to make it a visit that he 'will cherish for a long, long time'. "President Obama is an honoured guest in India and we will do everything that ensures his convenience. This is an honour that we have extended to the head of state of one of our mostly friendly partners," External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. "So, we will do everything that is possible to ensure his stay here is comfortable, is something that he will cherish for a long, long time," he said.
Obama and his wife Michelle Obama arrive in India Jan 25 for a three-day visit that would see the US president hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Jan 26, he would attend the Republic Day parade as the chief guest and in the evening the At Home reception hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee. He is likely to address a town-hall style meeting in an educational institution.
Obama and his wife Michelle would fly down to Agra the following day for a visit to the Taj Mahal before flying out of India. A high alert has been sounded in Agra ahead of his visit on Jan 27, officials said. Special officials and personnel of the local intelligence unit (LIU) have been asked to step up vigil and stay in coordination with the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other intelligence wings, a home department official said.
Security deployment has been increased at the railway stations - Raja Mandi, Fort and Cantonment - and bus stations in the city. The security has also been enhanced following a letter threatening a terror attack "somewhere" on the Yamuna Expressway, which connects Agra with New Delhi. Special security personnel and sharp shooters would be positioned on vantage and high-positions, officials said.
Only six visits in 67 years
Only six US presidents have visited India in 67 years since independence. Top level exchanges between world's largest and the oldest democracies began with India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visiting the US in 1949. But it took another 10 years for Washington to return the call with president Dwight D Eisenhower going to India in December 1959.
John F. Kennedy, who succeeded Eisenhower, could not visit India, but sent vice president Lyndon Johnson to India in the very first year in office in 1961. First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy toured India the next year. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
Richard Nixon came calling as president in July 1969, six months after assuming office, to ease tensions with then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. The two leaders never really hit it off with Nixon taking a hostile stand against India during the 1971 Bangladesh war.
It would be another nine years before Jimmy Carter became the third US president to visit India in January 1978 after the general elections in India in 1977 when Gandhi lost power after popular revolt against her emergency regime (1975-77).
The US soon became India's largest trading partner, but Carter who came to deliver a "cold and blunt message" to India over its nuclear ambitions failed to get Morarji Desai's Janata Party government to sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.
It was another 22 years before Bill Clinton came in March 2000 to take out the chill from India-US relations since India's second set of nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998. In many ways, this was a turning point in Indo-US ties that were earlier termed as "estranged democracies". Clinton, who came with his daughter, visited Jaipur, Hyderabad and Mumbai besides Delhi during a five-day trip, the longest by a US president.
George W Bush, who was the fifth US president to visit India, in March 2006 with first lady Laura and estasblished a rapport with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His 60-hour visit, by far the shortest after Nixon's 23 hours, marked the beginning of the end of India's "nuclear apartheid" with the two countries signing the historic India-US nuclear deal.
Barack Obama, who had in November 2009 held the first state dinner of his presidency in honour of then prime minister Manmohan Singh, visited India in November 2010. He became the second US president after Nixon in 1969 to visit India in his first term in office and the second after Eisenhower to address a joint session of the Indian Parliament.
Calling the India-US relationship "a defining partnership of the 21st century," he also backed India's quest for permanent membership of UN Security Council. Now Obama is set to notch two more firsts. He will be the first US president to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebration as also the first to visit India twice while in office.
Important things about visit
During his three-day visit, Obama will have a really tight schedule. Important things about Obama's visit:
1. Obama will be the first US President to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in India.
2. During his visit to attend the Republic Day celebrations in India, Obama will be accompanied by his wife Michelle Obama and a team of senior officials in his administration.
3. During the Day 1 of his three-day visit, the American president and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi are likely to hold comprehensive talks on the entire gamut of bilateral ties and discuss ways to enhance cooperation in key components, including civil nuclear and defence pacts.
The visit is also expected to boost the seven- year-old civil nuclear deal, facilitating the establishment of US-designed nuclear power plants in India.
4. On second day of the visit, Obama will attend the Republic Day parade and later, along with Modi, will reportedly take part in Indo-US CEO roundtable.
5. On the final day of the visit, Obama is expected to address a town hall.
6. Before his departure from India, Obama and his wife also have a plan to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra.
7. Ahead of Obama's visit, there is already a flurry of terror threats coming everyday from different parts of the country. While the Islamic State (ISIS) has threatened the Mumbai Airport by scribbling notes with threat messages twice, Indian Army has imposed high alert in Jammu and Kashmir with the news of militant insurgency in the state.
8. After input from Intelligence agencies that bombs could be hidden anywhere, Special Cell and Crime Branch officers have been asked to be vigilant about the flower pots around Rajpath and India Gate, 24/7.
9. To beef up the security systems, high level of planning has been done that will cover both on-ground and air security for Obama.
The American team has put together the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) of the US. While India is putting together the Delhi Police, Central Industrial Security Force, Intelligence Bureau and Air traffic controllers to strengthen the security plan.