Outside the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, as former PM Atal Bihari Vaypayee’s mortal remains were being taken out of the building, Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed behind. When he did not get into his car, everyone around was taken by surprise.
Modi quietly followed the hearse that was on its way to Rashtriya Smriti Sthal, the funeral venue. At that point, the Special Protection Group, the elite force that guards the PM, informed the police that Modi would walk alongside the funeral procession right up to Smriti Sthal in north Delhi, a senior police officer said.
BJP chief Amit Shah, Union ministers and chief ministers of several states, including Vijay Rupani, Shivraj Chouhan, Yogi Adityanath and Devendra Fadnavis were among those who walked sombrely behind the carriage as it slowly made its way to the cremation site.
“Never before has any Prime Minister walked 6 km like this in a public procession. We got very little time to tweak his security plan although we were equipped to handle VIP security all along the way. We did not have the list of VVIPs who would walk, but we had prepared anyway. However, the PM’s decision to walk had an element of surprise,” said the official, who was part of the security arrangements on Friday.
According to the security protocol, hours before a Prime Minister drives past a road, the area is cordoned off. Traffic comes to a complete halt. Armed police officers stand on each side of the road. No outsider should stand in the way. On Friday, Modi and other leaders walked with the funeral procession from Deen Dayal Upadhaya Marg, passing through usually crowded areas like Daryaganj in Old Delhi until reaching the funeral venue.
Even the BJP leaders present at the party office were surprised by the PM’s decision. “We knew that the party president (Amit Shah) was likely to walk with the mortal remains but the Prime Minister’s decision to walk came as surprise. Initially, we thought that he would walk for a few metres or up to ITO (Income Tax Office) crossing but he continued,” said a BJP leader.
From carrying out a survey of houses along the route to deploying a line of armed security men in plainclothes and deploying rooftop spotters to putting in place the security cordon for VVIP movement, Delhi Police had to make elaborate security arrangements on Friday.
Senior officers said although they were informed of the PM’s decision to walk at the last minute, they had already sanitised the route, so the additional security arrangements did not take much time to organise. The main challenge was close coordination with the Special Protection Group , which forms the PM’s inner security cordon.
The police also ensured that all the shops and commercial establishments around the Smriti Sthal and the BJP headquarters remained closed. Service lanes and alternative roads leading to the main route were also barricaded.
Delhi police commissioner Amulya Patnaik said, “Every house on the route was surveyed and our men were deployed on the roof tops . Our men with other security agencies formed multiple security rings around the PM till the procession reached the venue,” he said. Delhi Police’s dog squad and bomb detection units also sanitised Smriti Sthal.
Patnaik said at least 3,000 police personnel were on duty for Vajpayee’s last rites. Delhi Police’s Jaguar bike patrolling squad was also seen taking rounds of the cluttered areas on the outer periphery of the route.
Retired IPS officer Amod Kanth, who served in Delhi police for over two decades, said, “It must have been challenging. All leaders in one place and the PM walking in the open. I was the officer who supervised Indira Gandhi’s funeral procession in 1984. People had come to the streets then too and managing security then was a task. Apart from that only Pandit Nehru’s funeral must have been so large a gathering like the one we saw today.”