The security mantra for Obama’s India visit: Yes, we scan

Spot the security.
Spot the security.
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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No head of state—not even the president of China or Russia—has managed to shut down an entire city on a visit to India.

Except Barack Obama.

And not once, the US president is doing it in India for the second time—after shutting down India’s financial capital, Mumbai, during his first visit in 2010—as he arrives in New Delhi next week.

The first serving US president to come to India twice, Obama will fly into New Delhi’s international airport in the early hours of Jan. 25. After breakfast, he will head to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Indian president’s residence atop Raisina Hill in central Delhi, for some pomp and ceremony before a trip to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial. Next on the agenda for Sunday is a meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi and a state dinner in the evening to wrap things up.

For all that, the heart of India’s capital city—bordering the central business district—is likely to be paralysed. An estimated 50,000 security personnel, 15,000 CCTV cameras, a team of secret service agents, 40 dogs, airborne radars and other security paraphernalia will be deployed.

Just imagine if Lower Manhattan was crammed with cops and shutdown for a foreign head of state.

It’ll get even worse on Monday—Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day—the centerpiece of Obama’s trip to the country, as even more personnel will be deployed to provide a seven-layered security blanket for the US president. That sort of protection is entirely unprecedented, and not something China’s Xi Jingping or Russia’s Vladimir Putin were ever granted.

Not just that.

The Indian government has even agreed to a no-fly zone, which will shut down flight operations in adjoining cities like Jaipur, Agra, Lucknow and Amritsar, during the entire duration of India’s Republic day parade that lasts two hours.

Mumbai stalled

In 2010, when Obama flew to Mumbai, met with business leaders and held an open house at St Xavier’s college, the city’s  southern district was shut down, even though the visit coincided with Hindu Diwali festival.

The government simply banned the bursting of crackers during the weekend in south Mumbai, where the Obamas stayed, and forced shops to shut down. People were also not allowed to board ferry boats from Mumbai’s iconic Gateway of India—or mill about at Marine drive, a favorite seaside boulevard.

During the 2010 trip, when Obama had spent a day-and-a-half in New Delhi, the government had turned the capital city into a bit of a fortress. But that was nothing like the security blanket that’ll be wrapped around the US president this time.

In the open

Much of that is because Obama is expected to be seated in the open for over a 100 minutes, the duration of the Republic day parade.

Here is what we know about the measures that the Indian government is taking for Obama’s visit:

1. 71 high-rise building from where Rajpath, the parade’s route, can be seen will be shut down completely.

2. India will use AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) to monitor any air movements in the region and can even detect incoming missiles from some 400 km away.

3. The government has so far installed 45,000 CCTV cameras in the capital for the visit, which received a rap from Delhi’s high court. “Because of a foreign president, you do it, but not for Indian citizens. If we direct you to do it for Indians, you do it in months and years, else you do it in weeks,” the court reportedly said. “Let’s get someone from outer space.”

4. Commercial flight movements to Agra will also be curtailed and Taj Mahal will be out of bounds for citizens on Jan. 27 when Obama visits the monument.

5. A number of roads leading up to Rajpath have been shut down for the public, unlike previous years when traffic movement was only barred near the venue.

In effect, there’s only one mantra being followed across India’s capital city for Obama’s visit: Yes, we scan.