Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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Prime Minister's Foreign Trips - Behind The Scene


One morning you wake up and decide that you wish to tour around a western country which is a famous tourist destination. You do not have to worry about the cost and logistics arrangement as you have a phone on which you have someone on the speed-dial who would dispatch a high level team to that country to make all the necessary arrangements. On the date of your choice, you move into a swanky jet which would take you to your destination in style amidst best of security and luxury. You land with a warm reception and red carpet spread all for you. Sounds like a dream right! Infact a wonderful dream and seems too good to be true. Well it is a norm for the PM and President of India. Recently, I got a chance to interact with a high ranking protocol officer working with the Ministry of External Affairs who gave me interesting insight into how such a trip is undertaken. Since the basic protocols are same for PM and President, I would be using PM as proxy for both. Now I am not sure if this is actually a perk of PM or his responsibility but from where I stand, even that responsibility seems like a perk!!

So where does it all start from – an Invitation. Generally an invitation is extended by the host nation either directly to the PM during an interaction or to Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) through official channels. Whatever is the channel; once an invitation is received it is assessed by MEA officials from various perspectives taking into account all the parameters involved in relations between countries. Officials evaluate the strategic objectives of India and our relations with the inviting country. Based on the assessment, MEA develops a recommendation for accepting an invitation and puts it up to the External Affairs Minister (EAM) for approval. EAM considers the political implications of the visit and other relevant factors and approves the recommendation which is then sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The final call on the decision is taken by the PM based on view of the PMO and the recommendations of the EAM. Once a decision is taken to visit the country, it is communicated to the host country and planning for the visit begin that very moment.

Key parties involved in the planning stage are the embassies of the two countries and the foreign affairs ministries all of whom coordinate very closely to meticulously plan every aspect of the visit. The first thing to be decided is the schedule of the visit based on convenience and availability of the leaders of both the countries. MEA suggests tentative dates to the PMO in their initial recommendation. Once the dates are confirmed, agenda of meetings are decided for the meetings and broadly an understanding is reached on the direction of discussions. Tentative list of meetings are also chalked out at this stage including the leaders of the host country that the PM could meet. These however are initial planning and are finalized only during the last stages of the planning phase.

Activities gain momentum about one month ahead of the scheduled visit and final preparations are given shape. A high level advance team is constituted which includes members from the PMO and representatives from Protocol and Media department of the MEA. The team also includes members from various security agencies including the Special Protection Group (SPG) which is the agency in-charge of PM Security. The team reached the host country at this stage and begins the process of chalking out the final plan. During this phase each meeting is finalized including participants, duration and schedule of meetings and other formalities. The advance team visits each of the venues of all the events that PM is scheduled to attend and assesses the security and logistics requirements. A list of requirements is drawn up based on their assessment and shared with the host country. The SPG representatives draws up an exhaustive security plan for the visit and works with the security agencies of the host country to make all the arrangements to ensure the security of PM. Accommodation for the Prime Minister is arranged either in the State Guest House of the country or a luxurious hotel based on suitability and availability. The host country normally makes the arrangement for the PM and members of the delegation. Generally EAMs or other high ranking officials of the two countries meet ahead of the visit to give a final shape to potential agreements/ MOUs to be signed during the visit.

One week ahead of the visit the Official Jet of the PM, Air India One is prepared for carrying the dignitary in style. On the final day PM takes off with a high level delegation comprised of officials from MEA and representatives from ministries related to agenda of discussions. In practice, on most occasions National Security Advisor accompanies the PM on visits. On his arrival in the country, PM is received by a set of officials based on the protocols, as set by the host country and varies across countries. The reception protocols also vary based on the time when PM lands in the host country. At the least Indian Ambassador to the country, the military attaché of the embassy and a high ranking official of the host government receive the PM at the disembarkation ladder.

The host country extends the best possible hospitality to the PM and his delegation including arrangements for accommodation, logistics for the meeting and oblige to most of the requests of the visiting dignitary made through official channels. The host country also makes necessary provisions for the security of the PM and designates special security attaché for the purpose. PM is also accompanied by a security team of SPG to ensure that our leader is well protected in any of the eventuality. The proximate security is generally handled by the SPG team even on foreign soils. Special arrangements are met at all the venues where the PM visits and the aim to provide as much comfort as possible to the dignitary.

Well there is much to such visits which involves hardcore diplomacy and stern negotiations to reach agreements and sign MOUs. These are intense discussions and camaraderie has limited impact when both sides want to have the best deal for their country. However, the aim of this post is not to delve in those aspects as we there is very limited information on it that we will ever have. This was just aimed at creating a memory out of my interaction with the official from MEA who was gracious enough to indulge my inquisitiveness and had the patience to answer my queries. So let me dedicate this post to him for his forthrightness and the effort he took for this. If we have more officials like him, government departments would definitely change their perception among masses.

Do provide feedback on what you think about the post. Do you have more insights into such visits? Are their references available on this subject? I would be happy to read through them or hear your insights. Just drop in a word in comments.

3 comments:

  1. Is the entire motorcade of the VIP transported to foreign countries?

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    Replies
    1. As far as I understand, the entire motorcade is never transported oversees. However, for the PM's car, a decision is taken by the SPG based on various circumstances. For most countries where security is not a major issue, Indian embassy in the country arranges a diplomatic vehicle locally. The primary requirement being a bullet proof "respectable" vehicle as per the standard of a VIP. For example PM Modi used a merc on his Japan visit and a Limoish vehicle on US visit.
      However, there have been cases where SPG thought it prudent to carry PM's vehicle from India. Recently, during PM's Nepal and Bhutan trip, the BMW (official PM car in India) was transported to the respective countries.

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  2. Is the prior permission of the President of India and or information to him by the PMO is necessary to embark upon the foreign travel by the P.M.?

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