New Delhi, Oct. 30: Sonia Gandhi was on television to exhort terrorism must be faced with all our might after visiting Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit told people not to panic, BJP president L.K. Advani said he could not recall an incident that had claimed so many lives in Delhi.
As three blasts rocked the capital yesterday evening, the one face and voice that was not seen and heard was of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Blame it on the security protocol.
He was on a visit to Tripura and Bengal that was aborted once the extent of the devastation became known. Singh’s media adviser Sanjaya Baru said he received a message on his mobile just as the Prime Minister’s plane took off for Calcutta from Agartala.
For the next hour or so, there was a virtual news blackout, though the special aircraft used by prime ministers is usually equipped with a communication network, including a fax machine. Baru, however, said the pilot alone could pick up messages and signals. It is not known if the pilot of yesterday’s aircraft was updated on the blasts.
It was only when the plane landed in Calcutta that Singh started to get the details, said Baru. Bengal governor Gopal Gandhi and the chief minister received him and Singh spoke to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for a while before leaving for Raj Bhavan.
He spent an hour there, briefly meeting a delegation of local Congress members. Baru said he was mostly on the phone to home minister Shivraj Patil.
Baru explained that the Prime Minister could not have departed from his original schedule and left for Delhi from Calcutta airport. “There is so much security protocol involved that no Prime Minister can change his programme on the spur of the moment.”
If, for instance, Singh had wanted to bring his departure to Delhi forward, it would have involved changes in timings of several flights moving in and out of the capital to clear the air space and the tarmac. A source said this was “untenable” in a few hours.
In Calcutta, Singh was not available to the media, but Baru made a statement on his behalf. After the London Underground blasts, Prime Minister Tony Blair had addressed the nation in about three hours.
The media adviser said Singh could not have addressed the nation on Doordarshan from Calcutta because it would have entailed security clearance to facilitate his travel to the TV studio. That would have taken nearly a couple of hours. The security “trap” made it impossible for the Prime Minister even to leave Raj Bhavan to address the media.
Singh decided in Calcutta to address a news conference at Delhi airport on landing. It took place 20 minutes past midnight, but by then Baru had informed the journalists.
“We ensured that the Prime Minister’s statement was on TV from the early hours of Sunday,” he said.
Blair was at Gleneagles in Scotland when the London blasts occurred. In six and a half hours he was at Downing Street conferring with his ministers and security officials, addressed the nation yet again and returned to the G8 summit.
Singh’s security protocol ensured that when the nation wanted to see and hear the Prime Minister, it could not.