Security of the Olympic Flame in India

Security of the Olympic Flame in India

Vinod Anand
Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic Studies and Simulation, United Service Institute of India, New Delhi

Recent events in Olympia, Greece where the Olympic Torch lighting ceremony was disturbed by Tibetans wishing to draw attention to their cause has implications for the security of the Torch Relay passing through Delhi. Further, in the light of violent Tibetan protests and storming of the Chinese embassy in Delhi urgency has been added to organizing foolproof security for the event in Delhi. National Security Adviser, MK Narayanan, has promised that, "We will provide all possible arrangements to ensure that the Olympic torch travels through India peacefully." Earlier the torch relay was to be held in Mumbai, but due to "logistical and operational reasons," the venue had to be shifted to Delhi. However, it is apparent that the major factors that weighed on the minds of the Indian Olympic Association were security considerations.

The two main events in India which require huge logistical, operational and security efforts are the Independence Day speech delivered by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of Red Fort on 15 August and the Republic Day Parade on 26 January every year along the Rajpath-India Gate-Red Fort route. Generally, this would be the route (less Rajpath) along which the Olympic Torch Relay would be taken, but in the reverse direction. The level of security for the Relay is not likely to be at the same level as the above events. For Republic Day, massive security arrangements involving 200 companies of the Delhi Police, National Security Guard, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and other Security and paramilitary forces are made for providing enhanced security. All entry points into Delhi are manned by police pickets to prevent the entry of undesirable elements. Air defence cover is also provided to thwart any air threat. In addition helicopters are employed for air surveillance of the parade route. Though Delhi has suffered many terror attacks, any untoward incident has been avoided so far during the two major national events because of these massive security and administrative arrangements. The Olympic torch relay in Delhi is an international event and all efforts need to be made to avoid any embarrassment to the Indian government.

Some security measures have already been put into place for the event. The Route for the last Olympic Torch Relay in New Delhi in June 2004 was from Qutub Minar in South Delhi to India Gate/National Stadium, a distance of approximately 21kms. Now, since the distance has been reduced to 9kms the requirements of security arrangements would be less, and greater security can be provided with the same resources. Further, in June 2004, 105 participants had taken part in the Relay but only 80 participants would be taking part this time. The time taken from start to finish of the Relay would be two hours, which is considerably less than the last time, thus reducing the risk-exposure time. Interestingly, Tibetan organzations have approached Aamir Khan and other prominent participants to refrain from participating in the Olympic Torch Relay as a mark of protest against human rights violations by China.

Special emphasis on anti-sabotage checks, access control and intelligence coordination are needed. The entire route from Red Fort to India Gate needs to be covered by a special security cordon and anti-terrorist arrangements. Coordination between the Army, Intelligence Bureau and other security forces must be instituted much in advance, and regular checks would be mandatory a few weeks before the event. A large number of Commandos should be mobilized from the Delhi Police and the ITBP and a number of Mobile Hit Teams (Quick Reaction Teams/Force in military parlance) as well as Sniper Teams of the National Security Guard should be deployed. After the termination of the Relay Run a Cultural Programme of approximately two hours duration has been organized. A dress rehearsal for the security, traffic and administrative arrangements for the cultural event had already been organized on 6 January when a Cultural Programme on 1000 days to the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 was organized.

In addition to the likely threat to the disruption of the torch relay by Tibetan groups, there is also a threat from terrorist groups like the Lakskar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Besides the NSA, both the Home Minister and Foreign Minister have assured the Chinese that the passage of the Olympic flame through Delhi would be safe. Despite the many politico-diplomatic differences between India and China on the Tibetan issue and controversies surrounding it, India is obliged to ensure the smooth conduct of the event which is of a non-political nature.

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