Ahmedabad readies for ‘Namaste Trump’: Security forces, administration on their toes

Vaibhav Jha, Avinash Nair
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Police personnel deployed at Sardar Patel stadium, which is scheduled to be inaugurated during US President Donald Trump’s visit, in Ahmedabad on Thursday. (Express photo/Javed Rajd

A senior police officer’s watchful eyes scan the Airport Circle road four kilometres away on his desktop screen at the control and command centre of the Ahmedabad city police. He zooms in on an autorickshaw parked on the wrong side and sends out a radio message. A traffic constable arrives at the spot and asks the auto driver to move out as the cop in the console watches, relieved.

His computer mouse then rotates the CCTV camera by 180 degrees to get sight of the other end of the circle road, giving an idea of the surveillance ahead of the visit of US president Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

The Trumps are expected to land in Ahmedabad around noon from where they will head straight to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stadium, popularly called the Motera Stadium, for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event designed on the lines of the Howdy Modi event in Houston September 2019.

Outside the Ahmedabad city police chief’s office, police control room (PCR) vans, riot control vehicles and Rapid Action Force (RAF) buses ply in and out. A convoy of 20 PCR vans is conducting a mock drill on the Indira bridge, a few kilometres from the airport. A senior woman officer is seen instructing her subordinates, while RAF personnel in blue uniform with anti-riot gear are patrolling and conducting flag marches in residential societies in the vicinity of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International (SVPI) Airport.

Teams of US-based secret service, Special Protection Group (SPG) and National Security Guards (NSG) have already arrived in the city and are coordinating with the local police. On Thursday, Secret Service officers, all wearing black shades, did a recce of the Sabarmati Ashram, Motera stadium and airport premises.

The challenge for the security agencies will not just be limited to the two venues but also the 22-kilometre route from Ahmedabad airport to Sabarmati Ashram to Motera Stadium where a roadshow will be held.

Crowd of 1.25 lakh

The crowd, estimated to touch 1.25 lakh at the largest stadium in the world, will range from Bollywood stars, cricket legends, business leaders, political leaders and NRIs to school and college students.

Around 1,500 NRIs are expected to be flying in to Ahmedabad by Monday morning specially for this event, according to Vishnu Pandya, chairman of Gujarat Sahitya Academy.

“These will include businessmen, industrialists, journalists and other professionals,” said Pandya.

Shailesh Patel, hotelier and real estate businessman from California who hails from Surat, who claims to have participated in the Howdy Modi event, has arrived with his son Ashish, to take part in the Namaste Trump event. Originally from Chhatral near Mehsana, Patel is based in San Diego since 1980.

Patel told this paper, “I met PM Narendra Modi in Delhi in 2018 along with my father Dahyabhai Patel. he knows our family personally.” Claiming that he and Ashish would be sent invitation cards by their name, “from Delhi on Friday”, Patel said that he had, in August 2007, met Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, over business.

Board of Control FOR Cricket in India (BCCI) president and former India captain Saurav Ganguly is among the likely guests, going by his tweet that said, “Lovely to see such a massive, pretty stadium. Ahmedabad... have great memories in this ground as a player, captain. grew up at Eden with hundred thousand capacity... (not any more)... can’t wait to see this on 24th.”

A large 40-feet platform is being created at the centre of the stadium, which will be above the cricket pitch. This platform will be used by Trump and Modi who are expected to enter from the side of the GCA(Gujarat Cricket Association) Club, official sources said.

Seating arrangements for around 10,000 VVIPs have been made next to the platform where cultural events will be held. Invitation cards with barcodes — which are yet to be issued — will carry the seat number.

The colour combination of the seats has been done in such a way that it represents the shining sun from the top. Reacting to the picture, Gujarat-based cricketer Hardik Pandya said, “Unreal”.

Former India cricketer Harbhajan Singh, reacting to another tweet from BCCI on the stadium, said, “Would love to play another test in this beautiful ground. Congratulations!”

Crowds have also been mobilised from Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Kheda, Anand, Vadodara, Mehsana, Surendranagar, Banaskantha, Patan, Mahisagar, Aravalli Panchmahal and Sabarkantha districts for the stadium.

The Namaste Trump event is expected to touch a bill of Rs 100 crore, of which Rs 20 crore is being spent on widening and re-carpeting roads.

While it is still not clear if the Trumps will be going to the Gandhi Ashram, “trustee of Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT), Kartikeya Sarabhai said, “Preparations are going on... We have been told there is no change of plan. With presidential visits, possibilities (of cancellation) are always there, you never know.”

Crowd management

According to a tweet by Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra on Monday, more than “one lakh participants have confirmed for the 22-km roadshow.”

“We have done barricading and policemen will be deployed to avoid mismanagement. The roof points on this 22-kilometre stretch will act as deep points for us from where we can intercept any threat. Anti-sniper units of both National Security Guard and Secret Service will be deployed at crucial points,” said Ajay Tomar, special commissioner of police, Crime Branch.

Only VVIPs will be allowed entry with their vehicles on the stadium premises. A special parking area is being created at the GMDC ground where VIPs are required to park their personal vehicles and board special buses that will take them to the stadium, nearly four kilometres away. Others will have to walk for about 1.5 kilometres after parking their personal vehicles at designated spots.

Sources in the trade and industry associations told The Indian Express that they are yet to get invites for the event. “We were asked to cut down on the number of invitees from the business fraternity by 50 per cent. So now we do not know who all will be invited. We have been flooded with calls from those we had invited on behalf of our association, but we have not been able to give reply as we have not got the invitation cards,” said an office bearer of an industry association who did not wish to be identified. The invitations for the VIPs and businessmen are expected to be distributed only on Saturday, said sources.

The roadshow will have nearly 28 stages at various points to showcase cultural performances ranging from Gujarat’s garba, to folk dances from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and other states.

At least 11,000 police personnel have been roped in from 10-15 districts, including Navsari and Dang.

Tech surveillance

Drone surveillance cameras, jammers and anti-sabotage vehicles will be deployed along the route and at the stadium.
Under the newly inaugurated VISWAS (Video Integration and State Wide Advanced Security), over 7,000 CCTV cameras are being installed at traffic junctions, entry and exit points and other strategic locations in 41 cities of Gujarat. Footage will be manned in a pyramid-style structure starting from a state command and control centre at the top, which will control 34 District Command and Control Centres, which, in turn, will man the CCTV cameras in their respective districts.

“We have state-of-the-art gadgets such as fix cameras, pan-tilt zoom cameras, red-light violation detection cameras and automatic number plate recognition cameras with the global standard analytical tools, where we aim to detect illegal parking, traffic violation, crowd detection, unattended bag detection, head counting, camera tampering and intrusion detection,” said a senior Gujarat Police officer.

Airport schedule

On Tuesday and Wednesday, two US aircraft carrying cargo, which included security vehicles, arrived at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport.

According to airport officials, the scheduled flights on Monday will be operational as normal.

“Under no circumstances, operations at the Ahmedabad airport will be suspended or shut. However, given the arrival of state guests and security protocol requests, we might keep a 15 minutes to half an hour gap before the aircraft of Trump touches down and takes off,” said JB Singh, public representative officer, Airport Authority of India.

(With inputs from Kamaal Saiyed in Surat, Ritu Sharma & Sohini Ghosh in Ahmedabad)