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Delhi gets ready to receive Obamas

US President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when the two met on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Myanmar in November 2014, how he barely had two years left to his presidential term and so much to do. The wish list included getting his daughters to see a tiger in the wild and the Taj Mahal.

Obama, his wife and daughters will land in New Delhi on January 25 for a three-day visit.

It is, as yet, not public whether a visit to Ranthambhore or any other tiger sanctuary has been planned for the Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia when Obama and Modi sit to discuss the US-India partnership at Hyderabad House on January 25. But the first family will be travelling to Agra on January 27 to see the monument of love.

The government, however, is trying to make the visit as memorable as possible for the Obamas. This includes several departures from protocol like the US President riding in his official vehicle, ‘the Beast’, on the morning of January 26 to attend the Republic Day Parade at Rajpath. The chief guest for the parade normally rides in the official car of the President of India to near the ceremonial dais.

Official sources said they had accommodated all concerns of US Secret Service to allay their fears about their president and his family attending an open-air event for over three hours.

Syed Akbaruddin, official spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, said the US president is an honoured guest, and head of state of one of India’s closest partner nations. New Delhi will do all it can to ensure his convenience so that he will cherish his visit for a long time.

‘The Beast’ is the armoured car in which the US president travels, including on his foreign visits. The US presidential standard is replaced on the vehicle when the President on a foreign visit, to fly the flag of that country, apart from the other stanchion in the vehicle flying the US flag. ‘The Beast’, therefore, will have the Indian tricolour as well as the US flag when it rides on the Rajpath.

The two sides are likely to strengthen defence and security cooperation during the visit. According to a PTI report from Washington, the Obama administration is “rushing through” to meet its commitment to PM Modi on counter-terrorism.

This week the US treasury department slapped sanctions against two aides of India’s most-wanted underworld don Dawood, who runs his D-Company criminal network from Karachi. By targeting Mehran Paper Mill, a Kotri City, Pakistan-based paper company owned by Anis Ibrahim, Dawood’s brother, is a clear indication from the US about how entrenched D-Company is in Pakistan.

Anis and Aziz Moosa Bilakhia (Bilakhia) have been designated as Narcotics Traffickers under Kingpin Act because of their ties to D-Company. Following their White House meeting on September 30, 2014, Modi and Obama had stressed the need for joint and concerted efforts, including the dismantling of safe havens for terror and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis.


THE INDIA PLAN

January 25

  • US President Obama, First Lady Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha to land in New Delhi
  • Ceremonial guard of honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan
  • Visit Rajghat
  • Talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House
  • Michelle and daughters to attend separate events, possibly visits to schools/NGOs working among children

January 26

  • Attend R-Day Parade
  • Modi and Obama to attend India-US CEO roundtable
  • Banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan

January 27

  • Visit Agra to see the Taj Mahal
  • Town hall event (time and place not disclosed yet)
  • Departure

(Final itinerary is yet to be made public, given the security concerns)

SECURITY

  • Seven-layer security cover in place in Delhi for the parade
  • For the first time, the chief guest will arrive for the Parade not with the President of India but in his own vehicle, in this case the US President’s armoured car, ‘The Beast’
  • In deference to the vehicle being on Indian soil, it will also fly the Indian flag
  • 40,000 police and central security agency personnel will be on guard, including concealed anti-terrorist squads
  • Around 500 US Secret Service personnel, snipers atop buildings
  • Entire Rajpath area, including buildings, to be sealed 72 hours before the parade
  • Maurya Sheraton, the hotel where the Obamas will stay, taken over by US security personnel
  • Delhi Police to install 100 face recognition cameras for the first time at railways stations, airport terminals, inter-state bus terminuses
  • Stray dogs being picked up from around Rajghat, Rajpath and other places the Obamas will visit

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