|French First Lady Carla Bruni and President Nicolas Sarkozy attend a meeting at the Isro satellite centre in Bangalore on Saturday. (AFP)
Agra, Dec. 4: Carla Bruni couldnt wait and a gallant Nicolas Sarkozy couldnt refuse her.
When the French First Lady said in Bangalore today she was really looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal, few realised that what she had in mind was to bring the visit forward.
So, the usually set-in-stone itinerary of a presidential tour had to be set aside to allow the couple a drive to the Taj this evening itself instead of tomorrow morning.
Bruni apparently made the request to her husband around noon, two hours after they had landed in Bangalore to begin their four-day India tour. So the Bangalore leg was wrapped up in a hurry. The Sarkozys touched down at Agra at 4pm, 40 minutes before schedule.
A barely 15-minute stop at their hotel, Amar Vilas, and the couple were off to the monument 1km away, he in a dark suit and she in green, a shawl draped round her.
By then, the Taj was bustling and bristling. The last-minute change of plans had sent the authorities hurrying to seal the route and hustle the hundreds of tourists off the monuments premises.
Some resisted, leading to arguments and scuffles and a complaint to police that the Central Industrial Security Force had physically removed a group of 50 schoolchildren, all aged under 10.
If the children returned disappointed, the Sarkozys did not. The 30 to 45 minutes they spent at the Taj apparently whetted their appetite so much that, sources said, they could pay a second visit tomorrow. The couple are also scheduled to visit Fatehpur Sikri.
The only hitch today: the sky suddenly turned too cloudy for the Sarkozys to have their picture taken in front of the Taj, security officials said.
Sarkozy had first visited the monument in January 2008 when he was chief guest at the R-Day parade but Bruni couldnt accompany him to India then because they hadnt married. The President, who had apparently promised Bruni a Taj visit together, had then written in the visitors book: See you again.
The media were held at bay today, although some enterprising photographers perched themselves atop hotels and other buildings near the monument to click the couple.
Zahid, the driver of the battery-operated vehicle at the Taj that took the First Couple around the premises, felt luckier. I didnt look behind, he claimed, but I am happy that drove them.
But Premraj Rawat, chairman of the National Public School at Hodal, Haryana, was fuming. His police complaint alleged that he and his students were abused and roughed up during the evacuation.
The way the CISF personnel were ordering everyone to leave, there could have been a stampede, he told The Telegraph. No comment was available from the CISF.