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Narendra Modi overruled strong objections from his security detail and shunned the bullet-proof enclosure to “connect directly” with people during his maiden Independence Day speech as PM on Friday.
The enclosure, a regular feature for almost 30 years, was removed just hours before the PM was to reach the Red Fort to address the nation. It was a closely guarded decision and only a handful of senior officers were in know, a home ministry source said.
“His view was that Independence Day is a people's festival and he didn't want any barriers in between -– not even a glass screen," a security official said. Again in the evening at a function at Rashtrapati Bhawan, Modi broke free from the security cordon to meet people.
Earlier, more steps were taken when Modi refused to use the bullet-proof enclosure after three hours of discussions that involved top security officials, home ministry sources said.
"The Prime Minister faces considerable threat to his life from terrorists. The enclosure was removed hours before his speech to keep an element of surprise,” the official said.
Security is put in place 48 hours ahead of the speech after an extensive anti-sabotage drill and securing of all high-rises in the vicinity.
The special protection group (SPG), responsible for the security of the PM, former PMs and their families, assigned more men to close protection team (CPT) to throw a ring around the PM. The CPT men are the first line of defence if someone fires a shot at the PM.
All high-rises, including Gauri Shankar temple, Digambar Jain temple and bus terminus, around the 17th century fort were secured and snipers deployed on rooftops. Buildings in Jhandewalan, around 3kms away, were also being guarded.
The bullet-resistant enclosure first came up on the Republic Day in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM. It became a permanent fixture until VP Singh opted for a half enclosure for the Independence Day in 1990. The screen was raised body-high again the next year for PM PV Narasimha Rao. After Rajiv Gandhi, Modi, according to intelligence agencies, faces maximum threat to life.
In the evening, at the At Home function at Rashtrapati Bhawan, Modi broke away from the security cordon to meet guests. For about 15 minutes, he mingled with the crowd and even signed autographs for children.