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Obama's Taj visit a stark contrast to Eisenhower's trip

Late US president Dwight Eisenhower's visit to Agra over five decades ago presents a stark contrast to the changed global security situation now as President Obama prepares to visit Taj Mahal next week.

New Delhi: Late US president Dwight Eisenhower's visit to Agra over five decades ago presents a stark contrast to the changed global security situation now as President Obama prepares to visit Taj Mahal next week.

Over 4,000 policemen and 100 US Secret Service agents, bulletproof vehicles, buzzing choppers and motorboats on the Yamuna combine to provide an overarching security cover for Obama when he visits the historical monument of love.

But it was an open Cadillac ride accompanied by Jawaharlal Nehru for the late US president when he visited the Taj Mahal in December, 1959.

Crowds lined up on both sides of the road as he drove past in an open Cadillac with Pandit Nehru waving back to the crowd amidst shouts of "Pt Jawaharlal Nehru ki jai" and "Long Live Indo-US friendship" and even "Welcome Ike" the pet name of the then US President," says N R Smith, a veteran journalist who had covered that visit.

"Over a hundred people" walked behind the Presidential Party as they strolled down the central causeway with fountains playing 15 feet high and falling, the floral patterns on the crystal clear water in the tanks.

People, were close enough to "catch some of the sentences uttered by Pandit Nehru as he guided the US president and explained to him the finer points of the architecture of the building."

From the Taj Mahal, Eisenhower drove down to the Circuit House from where he took off in a helicopter for Bichpuri Village, 13 km from Agra, where he landed on the grounds of Balwant Rajput college to a grand welcome.

The president's motorcade meandered through narrow roads in the nearby Larmda village, included in the itinerary based on Eisenhower's wish to see an Indian village.

Since no vehicle could traverse the 'katcha (mudsmeared) lane inside the village, the motorcade stopped outside the village and the tall 'Ike' had to "use all military skils to negotiate the ups and downs of the road."

Nehru, "kept a running commentary on what an Indian village is like, even as a small security group kept a vigilant eye on both sides of the the mud track and the photographers clicked away, sometimes getting atop the thatched roofs, much to the concern of the villages who feared the roofs would collapse."

Some 300 villagers made to sit on the chairs in front of a stage roared in welcome as Nehru took the mike and introduced Eisenhower to the rustic audience in a conversational tone.

"Bare desh ke Rasthrapati hain. Hamare mulk mein aaye hain, Amrika hamari madad kar raha hai kheti ke mamle main. Paidawar barane ke liye. Hum aur aap unka swagat karte hain," he said.

Eisenhower spoke a few clear words knowing the audience would not be able to understand his language. "Good Afternoon. Namaste and Thank you," was all he said, recalls the nearly 80-year-old journalist.

Obama, who will be arriving in India on January 25 for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day, will visit Taj Mahal on January 27.

The US president had missed out on visiting the monument of love during his previous trip to India in 2010.

CCTV cameras are being installed along the route from the Kheria airport to Taj Mahal, a distance of about 11 km to ensure the safety of one of the world's most protected man and officials have indicated that commandos will be posted along street corners, on rooftops and crossings.

UP government has authorised the state police to hire a helicopter to assist in air security. Flights have also been curtailed from the neighbouring cities.

The visit of US president Bill Clinton to Agra in 2000 also saw the security beefed up to such an extent that the streets were empty of traffic and even people.

Traffic was barred on the route along which Clinton passed and even pedestrians were kept away. Policemen kept guard on rooftops and those who lived on the route of the Presidential motorcade were advised to keep doors and windows shut.

"It was a ghost town that I visited," Clinton had remarked.