For the first time in more than 53 years of its existence on Janpath, the National Museum was brought to a virtual halt on a working day. The Delhi Police and the Central Reserve Police Force barricaded a section of Janpath on Sunday when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj at Jawahar Bhawan opposite the museum.
Hordes of Sunday visitors to the museum were turned back between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. although a few persistent ones were able to convince security personnel to let them in. Several others, including children, were left stranded in the heat.
The meeting of the Ministers began at 11-30 a.m. Some time after 1 p.m. Vijay Mathur, Curator and Head (Lecturing and Education/Paintings, National Museum), got a call from the Chinese Embassy that Mr. Wang would visit the museum. Minutes later, officers of central security agencies came calling.
“They (security officers in plainclothes) asked me to close the museum today. I said we have never ever closed the museum, although visitors entry can be restricted during the visit of a dignitary. They then said they will close down Janpath,” he told The Hindu.
The museums timings are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and it is closed on Mondays. Mr. Wang visit was from 2-30 p.m. to 3-30 p.m. during which he visited galleries on the ground floor which display miniature paintings, sculptures and decorative art.
“He showed interest in the Gandhara Buddha (Standing Buddha in Grey Schist) and was delighted to see the terracotta statues of Ganga and Yamuna from the Gupta Period. The Minister was taken aback when I showed him the relics or ashes of Buddha (from a stupa built by Ashoka in the 3rd Century BC),” Mr. Mathur added.
Additional Commissioner of Police (New Delhi) S.B.S. Tyagi said the barricading was done as a precautionary measure. “We barricaded that section of the road and regulated traffic around the area during the movement by the Chinese minister. The museum was blocked as he (the Minister) was visiting it,” he said.
The gates of the museum, however, remained defiantly open even during the Minister's visit. “Our gates can never close on a working day. It is our duty to remain open, even if the road is blocked and no visitors can come in,” Mr. Mathur stated.