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Obama’s R-day visit: US secret service worried about length of show, India won’t budge

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New Delhi (Jan. 19, 2015): For the first time, 1.25 lakh people, around 25,000 more than usual, will be witnessing the Republic Day parade at Rajpath on January 26.

As the Modi government seeks to make its first Republic Day and the visit of US President Barack Obama something to remember, the preparations are being scaled up. According to sources, the number of tableaux participating in the parade may also be increased from 20 to 25.

Interestingly, this may end up extending the function beyond two hours, which will not go down well with the US Secret Service. It was already apprehensive about the amount of “outdoor exposure” of the US President. According to sources, the maximum time the US President is usually at an outdoor public event is about 45 minutes — the length of the Presidential inauguration.

A special “bulletproof” enclosure has been designed for the section where President Pranab Mukherjee, Modi and Obama will be seated. There will be a seven-layer security ring around the VVIP enclosure. A multi-agency control room will monitor surveillance operations across the Capital.

While there has been no formal proposal from American officials to curtail the Republic Day parade, this issue has figured during discussions with Indian officials. The Indian side, however, has conveyed that the parade cannot be shortened as it is a long-standing tradition.

Apart from Delhi Police and other paramilitary police personnel, a special team of NSG commandos will be deployed for security. The arrangements are being done by the Ministry of Defence.

While a preliminary security assessment was done last month by visiting American officials, an advance security liaison team arrived on Friday and officials have got broad details about Obama’s movements in India.

 “Last year the number of tableaux, from states, ministries and central paramilitary forces, was 20. This time it has been increased to 25, including three women contingents from security forces. Till now, this is a tentative programme as it is likely to be cut down,” a Defence Ministry official stated.

Meanwhile, uncertainty remains on the contentious issue of whether Obama will travel along with President Mukherjee in his bullet-proof limousine to Rajpath. The American side has been insisting that Obama can only travel by his own highly secure car known as the Beast. As per tradition though, the Republic Day chief guest and the Indian President travel together for the parade.

Giving an idea of the scale of security for a visiting US President abroad, a security official said that six plane-loads of equipment, vehicles, oil tankers and choppers, and 1,600 American personnel had travelled to Myanmar in November when Obama attended the East Asia Summit there.

Even the fuel used by the US President’s cavalcade was brought by an American Navy ship to a port in Myanmar from where it was transported to capital Nay Pyi Taw on a US oil tanker under security.