Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Tirumala went off peacefully Saturday, but citizens of the pilgrim town had to endure a serpentine stoppages of traffic at several places as the dignitary was driven down from the temple and safely escorted out of town.
In contrast with citizens’ experience on Friday, day one of the Rajapaksa’s visit, there were no major public protests on Saturday. Most of the protesters who had infiltrated into Tirumala and Tirupati from Tamil Nadu had been rounded up on Friday itself and police had wised up to the protesters’ tactics and quickly rounded up stray elements who showed up from the cottages to surprise the president.
When the Tirumala temple opened for rituals at 3 pm Saturday, Rajapakasa’s family and his 93-member entourage team was securely conducted to the presence of the deity. Priests and TTD officials were allowed in only in small numbers during the entire stay of the president.
An hour and a half before Rajapaksa’s arrival at the temple for the 3 am darshan, security officials sanitised the route to the Vaikuntam complex. According to police sources, some protesters did emerge from cottages at a couple of places, but they were removed out of harm’s way easily.
Rajapaksa was scheduled to be driven down the 52-curve road from Tirumala at 9.30 am, but it was postponed to 11.20 am. Preparatory to this descent, traffic was stopped on the up road since 9.20 am and allowed to go until 12.20 pm. As a result, vehicles were backed up bonnet to bonnet at the Alipiri toll gate, zoo park road, Kapila Teertham Road and the road leading to the NTR Circle.
Police forced all private establishments to stay shut all the way leading to Tirupati airport until the dignitary’s flight to Chennai took off from Renigunta airport.
Only stragglers wound their way in on Saturday and police picked them up easily. About 30 people who aroused police suspicions were picked up when they arrived at Alipiri in RTC buses. Despite the protests marking his visits to Bodh Gya and Tirumala, the Sri Lankan president maintained his composure.