President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel his visit to Agra came after Uttar Pradesh authorities insisted that he would not be allowed to use his armour-plated car to drive through the Taj Mahal’s eastern gate, government sources have told The Indian Express. The Secret Service, which protects President Obama, said having him travel into the complex in a battery-powered golf-cart posed an unacceptable security risk.
The Supreme Court had earlier directed all visitors to the Taj Mahal to disembark at the Shilpgram complex, 500 metres away, and board an electric vehicle to the entry gate.
Uttar Pradesh’s government, the sources said, refused to grant special access permission for President Obama’s bomb-proof personal vehicle, as well as almost 50 other vehicles carrying close-protection personnel and electronic security equipment.
“Basically”, a senior Home Ministry official said, “they told us to get an order from the Supreme Court, which was of course impossible in the time we had left”. Uttar Pradesh officials have offered no official comment on the issue.
The Secret Service’s 100-odd staff who were in Agra for the visit left their hotels on Friday night, after receiving instructions to stand down.
President Obama, government sources said, will now leave for Saudi Arabia early on January 27, to condole with the family of the recently-deceased Saudi monarch. Vice-President Joseph Biden had earlier been scheduled to undertake this duty.