Mumbai: US President Barack Obama arrives here Friday on the first leg of his three-day maiden visit to the country, seeking to build sinews for the growing Indo-American strategic and economic partnership and give fresh impetus to the fight against terror.
In a gesture loaded with symbolism, Obama, whose country spearheads the war against terrorism, begins his visit from Mumbai, the target of the brazen 26/11 terror attacks.
The choice of Taj Hotel, the epicentre of the Mumbai massacre by Pakistani terrorists, for his two-day stay has been described by Obama, the sixth US President to visit India and third this century, as a "tribute to the resilience of the Indian people" and to underscore the shared commitment of the two countries to counter terrorism.
"By staying at the Taj (hotel), I am pleased to pay tribute to the resilience of the Indian people, while also underscoring our shared commitment to counter terrorism," he said in an interview three days ahead of his trip.
Immediately after the Air Force One touches down at Mumbai airport around noon on November 6, Obama, the 49-year-old first Afro-American President of the United States, will fly to the 19th century icon of Indian hospitality and make a statement to commemorate 26/11 attacks.
He will pay his respects to the victims and sign the guest book.
The US President will then visit the Gandhi Museum at Mani Bhawan to honour the memory of the father of the nation.
Gandhi, according to Obama, has inspired Americans and African Americans, including civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King.
"The non-violence practised by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached--their faith in human progress--must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey," Obama had said in his speech while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
He will then attend a business summit organised by the US-India Business Council, participate in a roundtables with entrepreneurs and US CEOs and deliver a speech at Hotel Trident, another target of 26/11 assault.
Battling economic crises at home and wars abroad, besides tasting reverses in Congressional elections just ahead of his India visit, Obama is expected to make a pitch for greater access to US companies to Indian market, particularly in financial and retail sectors, at the summit.
Obama, who is likely to be accompanied by PepsiCo chief Indira Nooyi and 200 other industrialists, will meet over 350 Indian corporate honchos, including Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra, Deepak Parekh, Adi Godrej and Chanda Kochhar at a summit.
Industry body FICCI`s President Rajan Bharti Mittal is doubtful about any big-ticket deals being sealed during the visit, but says Indo-US economic ties will climb to an all new high through the interactions.
"It is the macro issues which we expect him to speak on and which will help take the relationship to a new level. A free market has been the US` biggest export and we would like if he gives his views on the same," Mittal said.
On November 7, the US President will visit the Holy Name School in Colaba and participate in Diwali celebrations.
Obama is scheduled to attend an Agricultural Exposition and the Open Government and Technology Exposition and also interact with university students at St. Xavier`s college, before leaving for Delhi in the afternoon.
A massive three dimensional security-- land, air and water-- has been put in place for the visit with thousands of personnel from US Secret Service, Indian intelligence agencies, anti-terror Force One commandos and local police deployed.
Indian Navy and Coast Guard vessels patrol the Mumbai coastline even as warships including US Navy`s Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship, carrying choppers, are in the Indian waters off the Mumbai harbour, police said.
The aircraft the Peleliu usually carries are AV-8B Harrier attack planes, AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, and UH-1N Huey helicopters, sources said.
The Navy and Air Force have been asked to intensify patrolling along the Mumbai coast and its airspace during Obama`s stay.
The city`s airspace will be closed half-an-hour before the President`s arrival for all aircraft barring those carrying the US delegation.
The President and First Lady Michelle will board a helicopter from the airport to INS Shikra, a naval air station and helicopter base, from where they will travel by road to Taj.
The Gateway of India sea front has been sanitised and all boats and ferry services from there have been suspended from November 5-8.