India is gearing up for the Republic Day celebrations on January 26, where Barack Obama will be the chief guest. Obama will be the first US President to visit India twice while in office; he had been here in 2010. He will also be the first US President to attend a Republic Day function. Obama along with his wife Michelle Obama will visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on January 27. All foreign dignitaries coming to India make it a point in their itinerary to go and see the Taj, India’s best known monument of the medieval times and often described as one of the greatest wonders of the world.
Unprecedented security arrangements have been made for the visit.
- A 100-member American security contingent is already in Agra to ensure security preparedness. This is supposed to be the highest ever for any US Secret Service.
- Commandos have already taken up positions along the Yamuna river bed at the rear of the Taj Mahal and they will be positioned there till January 29.
- More than 4,000 policemen are on the job
- Bulletproof vehicles, choppers and motorboats will include the second line of security cover.
- A quick reaction team of the CISF is keeping vigil along the Yamuna river.
- Members of a US advance team with senior police officials have been taking rounds of the Taj since January 21.
- Anti-terror squad (ATS) personnel, about 75 of them, will be deployed as outer security ring.
- The Secret Service agents from the US will provide the internal security for Obama as he goes around.
Obama will fly to Agra in Air Force One
According to the itinerary, Obama will fly to Agra in his official Air Force One aircraft and depart for the US from there, instead of Delhi. The plane will use Agra’s Indian Air Force air base for landing and take-off. This is a Boeing 747-200B plane customised for US Presidents. Earlier, it was reported that Obama will fly in Marine One to Agra. Marine One is the official helicopter of the US President.
Special US spy satellites will be used for aerial surveillance in and around Delhi as well as Agra. While Obama travels to Agra from Delhi, an area spanning from Jaipur, Delhi, Agra and till Amritsar will be kept under strong surveillance.
Standby helicopter at Agra airport
A special helipad has been prepared at the Agra airport and an helicopter will remain on standby to take Obama and his wife to Taj Mahal. Also, the flight frequency of commercial flights to and from Agra will be reduced during the President’s visit.
Taj Expressway to remain closed
Although Obama will travel to Agra by air, the six-lane 165 km-long Agra Expressway will remain closed for the general public as a part of emergency backup in case the air route cannot be used. Considering the present weather conditions in Delhi, where dense fog has been preventing flight operations, the Yamuna Expressway is considered as the controlled-access route. However, it has not yet been officially declared as to which route Obama will take for his visit to Agra. Security sources reported that two-three alternative routes will be kept ready. The route he takes will be completely sanitised. Emergency setups on alternative routes will be activated just an hour ahead of his actual departure.
Cleaning up the Taj and the city going on in full swing
Six hundred cleaners have been deployed in Agra for cleaning and scrubbing of the roads and streets as also the monument. Stains in and around the Taj are being washed away by the workers. The lawns and the hedges are being trimmed. The famous love seat has also been cleaned. All stray dogs, cows, buffaloes are being cleared from the roads. The roads near the monument are being totally sanitised and barricaded. The streets are spick and span. Authorities have ordered a lockdown around the complex. Locals have been ordered to stay indoors. The organisers want to ensure a picture-perfect backdrop during the US President’s visit.
Taj Mahal will remain open to public in the morning
Contrary to earlier reports that the Taj will remain closed for the general public on January 27, it will be open to all for a few hours on the day when Obama visits the monument. From sunrise to about 9.00 am, the main gate will remain open for visitors. After that, its gates will remain closed for the public till the time Obama leaves the city.