Kiran Bedi has pulled out, and Rahul Gandhi’s mind is not known yet. But when Aamir Khan runs with "the Beijing Olympics torch in his hand and a prayer for Tibet in his heart", he will be rubbing shoulders with Chinese securitymen recently described as 'watchdogs' and 'thugs' in Europe.
The first ring of security protecting the flame are members of the Olympic Holy Flame Protection Unit drawn from Beijing’s Special Police Force, trained in counter-terrorist operations. Indian commandos will make the second cordon. The outer ring will be manned by Delhi Police, CRPF and BSF personnel.
The flame will arrive in Delhi from Islamabad early on April 17, and will be taken to Bangkok after a short run on Rajpath. Meetings with an advance team from Beijing to check out the arrangements for the flame in the city are slated over the next few days.
A request from Beijing to allow increased presence of Chinese security personnel has been turned down. New Delhi has told Beijing that it would have to let Indian security agencies be in charge of the flame’s security.
“There is no Chinese involvement in the security arrangements," a senior home ministry official said on Wednesday. He expressed confidence that Tibetan protesters would not be allowed to come close to the torch.
Security agencies fear self-immolation bids and burning of Chinese flags to disrupt the relay. Concerned that Tibetan protesters may succeed, CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury called upon the government on Wednesday to see that there were no disruptions.
In Paris where protests marred the relay run, the flame attendants ended up becoming the focus of attention. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner criticised Chinese security staff on Wednesday for the way they handled the flame’s passage through Paris. “I am surprised by the conduct of those who have the responsibility under the Olympic charter — the Chinese — by their conduct in the streets of Paris,” Kouchner told the French lower house of parliament. Judo champion David Douillet, whose run was interrupted several times before his torch was extinguished, said the tracksuit-wearing staff jogging alongside him were “robots or watchdogs,” adding hat he felt “as if someone had spat in my face."
A senior home ministry official said the Chinese Special Police Force guards – the flame attendants – would be the only component of foreign security personnel in the plan for the Olympic torch.
As security agencies continue to barricade the stretch from Vijay Chowk to India Gate, home secretary Madhukar Gupta said the government would make all arrangements for the security of the torch. But former top cop Kiran Bedi found the arrangements too tight for comfort. “I respect the government’s decision, but I love freedom and can’t run in a cage.”
There is no word on Rahul Gandhi joining the run. Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natrajan said it was his decision.
(With inputs from Tushar Srivastava and Agencies)