Delegation from 43 countries to attend tomorrow's International Solar Alliance, MEA operating with clockwork precision to clear logistic jam
Presidents, prime ministers and senior ministers from at least 43 countries will be in Delhi on Sunday for the inaugural session of the International Solar Alliance.
Presidents, prime ministers and senior ministers from at least 43 countries will be in Delhi on Sunday for the inaugural session of the International Solar Alliance, which was co-founded by India and France two years ago during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Paris.
The sheer logistics of hosting so many leaders simultaneously might rattle lesser nations, but India's ministry of external affairs has fine-tuned the protocol to such a degree that it almost seems effortless. Having recently ensured that the 10 ASEAN leaders gathered for their summit in Delhi also attended the Republic Day celebrations as chief guests with almost clockwork precision, the ministry is extremely confident that "no visiting leader ever feels ignored or sidelined."
But this is not an easy task. Each visit requires intense coordination between the MEA and other relevant ministries, the respective embassies and high commissions of both the host and the guest nations, state governments, the police, airports, hotels, municipal corporations, PR agencies, and of course various security and intelligence agencies. Some specific hospitals too have a special protocol in place in case of any sudden emergency during a VIP visit. Planning for each visit is usually done months in advance, with each detail being refined and fine-tuned as the event nears.
"From organizing fresh camel milk for an Arab royal way back in the early 80s to ensuring that the hotel room of a western head of state had access to American satellite television in his hotel room, the Ministry of External Affairs spares no attempts to ensure that visiting VVIPs get the full red carpet treatment," says a diplomat. "As the lead agency tasked with ensuring that there are no gaffes either by the visitor or the hosts, the ministry also has to ensure that the agenda moves like clockwork, while at the same time laying out contingency plans for unplanned delays or obstacles," he said.
"Then, there are other sensitive issues like order of precedence, flouting which could lead to serious diplomatic heartburn. Who sits next to the Prime Minister, on which side, during the banquets and other public appearances?
Particularly when you have over a dozen heads of state and government attending the same thing? All these things have to be clearly laid down and meticulously followed for every visit." During the ASEAN summit, this was made easy as the
10 nation grouping has strict protocol already laid down on such issues. "But it is not always easy to do this, given that many leaders are sensitive to such perceived slights, and could easily take offence," he said.
So many heads of state visiting the city at the same time can also lead to other issues like traffic snarls and congestion due to the VIP motorcades. During the ASEAN summit, the MEA improvised by using what it describes as the bubble technique, where dignitaries arriving around the same time are clubbed together in one motorcade instead of separate ones. Apart from traffic, this also eases security issues, a critical factor.
"There have been occasions when we have disagreed with the security details coming in with the dignitary, but they were resolved quickly. For very high profile visits like the US President, we co-ordinate months in advance, with the secret service and other American agencies working in very close cooperation with our intelligence, police and the NSG or other elite close protection outfits. In fact, during President Barack Obama's visit in January 2015, the US secret service actually praised our agencies for their attention to detail and ensuring a secure environment for the visit," said one official.
The MEA also has ensured that each treaty or MoU that is signed with the visiting leader has zero errors. "The government recently released a comprehensive standard operating procedure with various checklists to ensure that all such documents reflect the current reality. Not one word in such documents should be open to debate or misinterpretation," an official said.
However, for the MEA, it is all in a day's work.
"Apart from the regular Commonwealth Heads of Government meet and the SAARC Summits, we've honed our experience by organizing events like the Africa summit in 2015, where we had over 50 heads of states and government in attendance, and of course the ASEAN do this year which was a double whammy given Republic Day itself needs extremely high levels of coordination and planning, " said a senior official.
"Today we can safely say that we can even deal with a 100 VVIPs simultaneously. Not too many nations can boast of that ability."