Pomp and circumspection for presidents and kings
Last minute kamikaze squads bolt into New Delhi's chaotic traffic to paint dividing lines on roads - lines which inevitably most third-world drivers will ignore.
A NATO ambassador, with a permanent suite at the Oberoi Hotel is terrified since the suite below him will house PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Between the Oberoi's renovators, Indian intelligence agents, and Arafat's own security men, the hapless ambassador is spared pounding, banging and scraping only between 4 and 6 a.m.
Thus, with palpable tension and omnipresent concern for mishap, New Delhi puts the finishing touches on the largest conference to which it has ever played host. On Monday, it will inaugurate the seventh summit of the 97 nonaligned nations of the world.
With 10 kings, 46 presidents, and 15 premiers in attendance, it will be a ceremony of color and high drama with some pomposity and global pretensions.
The accommodation of such an eclectic gathering - some of whose members are feuding, others engaged in shooting wars - has been the greatest challenge ever to India's skills of administration.
There will be no lavish villas for delegations, as there were at the last summit in Havana, and as were planned by the Iraqis when this session was originally scheduled for Baghdad.
Rather, the mighty and the lowly of the nonaligned movement, some arriving with up to 20 trunks of luggage, others with as little as two, will be housed in four five-star hotels in the capital. The arrangements have been extraordinary, down to the last excruciating detail.
Delegates are being housed according to the alphabetical order of their countries. Yet, Iran and Iraq would not sanction their delegations staying in the same hotel. Equally true with the two independent Yemens, north and south. And President Hafez Assad of Syria proved most obstreperous. He has been feuding with nations in all four hotels!
Security in this city - capital of one of a handful of practicing democracies in the nonaligned world - is such that an ordinary citizen can no longer dine at the Taj Mahal Hotel's delectable Chinese restaurant, the House of Ming. And the ambassador of one nonaligned country, who used to send his limousine each morning to the patisserie of the Oberoi Hotel to pick up freshly baked baguettes , has been told by security agents that his limousine is now off-limits. He must fetch the bread himself.
Hosting a score of unpopular dictators, some with as many as 15 recorded attempts on their lives, has given the willies to India's, often relaxed security officials, who for the last two months have been working literally day and night on summit preparations. Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein insists on bringing his own entourage of security - 200 gun-toting men. After hours of frantic consultations, it was agreed that the machine guns and automatic weapons would be deposited at the Delhi airport. Only pistols and revolvers would be permitted into the country to protect the nonaligned's more unpopular men.
Most host nations to the nonaligned group have had three years to prepare for a gathering such as this. India had only three months after security precluded the summit's being held in Baghdad because of the Iran-Iraq war.
Chefs and food tasters have arrived from Africa and Latin America. Embassies are receiving cargo planes carrying esoteric foods and fanciful items, depending on a president's individual tastes.
India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Zail Singh will camp at Delhi's Palam airport for two days and nights to receive the nearly fourscore heads of government and heads of state. The airport will be closed to normal traffic for two arrival and two departure days. And traffic police are pleading with the government to declare Monday - the day that the summit opens - an official holiday.
As of 8:30 that morning, 1,200 cars carrying dignitaries, security officials, and motorcycled police, as well as 60 buses, will begin converging from four different sites on the conference center. With 30 seconds allotted for each chief of state to alight from a car, and ascend the marble steps of the Vigyan Bhavan Conference Center, a minimum of one hour will be required.
And the arrival schedule, just as the hotel accommodations, must take politics into account. The various bureaucratic functionaries, who always people such gatherings, have already arrived, embarking on dress rehearsals since the beginning of the week.
Problems are being ironed out all over this sprawling city of 6 million. Some are bound to recur. But that would happen in any nation invaded by those accustomed to princely palaces while accompanied by a phalanx of thousands of bureaucrats, advisers and nervous security men.