As a good host, India will leave it to US President Barack Obama to decide whether he wants to travel in his own vehicle also known as ‘The Beast’ or in the vehicle of President Pranab Mukherjee, when he goes to Rajpath to attend the Republic Day parade on Monday.
Sources said that after the US Secret Service agents, who had come a month in advance to assess the security situation, expressed their concern that the American President would not travel in any other vehicle due to security concerns, India went back to the rulebook looking for a middle path.
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Though there is no past precedence of a guest of honour coming in a separate vehicle for the Republic Day parade and it has always been in the Indian President’s vehicle, there is no such bar on the guest coming in his own vehicle. The Beast arrived in Delhi on Friday in a special aircraft. “President Obama’s visit opened this debate and we decided to dig out the details. As of now, we have decided to leave the decision to the US President, whether he wants to come in his own vehicle or wants to accompany our President. It will be his call and senior leaders including the Prime Minister would apprise him of the past tradition here,” a senior government official said.
Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also likely to speak to Obama on this, but the decision will be left to the US President. “The US Secret Service was quite clear on their demand and they also offered that the Indian President could travel in the US President’s vehicle. This was rejected by India,” the official said.
President Pranab Mukherjee travels in a Black Mercedes Benz S600 (W221) Pullman Guard, which is heavily armoured and can withstand small arms fire and explosives.
Ever since the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, who was riding an open top Lincoln Continental, the US has pulled out all stops to make every succeeding Presidential vehicle virtually impenetrable. The Beast has eight-inch thick body armour plating and five-inch thick bulletproof windows which insulate the President from all sorts of threats including chemical attacks. Its doors weigh similar to those on a Boeing-757 aircraft.