‘This is the first time that we will have 4,000 guests for a function’

In the past it has hosted Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers; there have been banquets and ceremonies and well-attended At Homes, but nothing will match the number that will turn up at its doorstep on Monday to watch Narendra Modi being sworn in as the Prime Minister. The sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt is ready to host 4,000 guests who will assemble to witness the ceremony.

“This is the first time that we will have 4,000 guests for a function. The highest we usually have is between 1,400 and 1,500. It is a huge logistical challenge, but we are enjoying taking it on,” said Omita Paul, Secretary to President Pranab Mukherjee.

While the earlier swearing-in functions of Chandra Shekhar in 1990 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998, also held in the forecourt, were attended by 1,200 to 1,300 guests, the 2014 ceremony so far is the biggest, said Ms. Paul.

All stops have been pulled out to ensure that the ceremony, to be beamed live into millions of homes, is glitch-free. Extensive security arrangements are in place for the protection of the invitees, which include Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay, Bangladesh Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Also among the invitees are the Vice-President, 777 MPs (both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), the former Union Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, diplomats, envoys and other constitutional heads. While there is no word yet on who would be attending the ceremony from Mr. Modi’s family, seating arrangements have been made to accommodate the special attendees if they turn up.

Ministers to be sworn-in can bring up to four guests, and well known faces from the world of art, cinema, sports and business are expected to be present at the ceremony.

Meticulous planning

If preparing for this mammoth ceremony required hours of meticulous planning, coordination between multiple agencies and ensuring every little detail is approved of by protocol, conducting the proceedings on the D-day will be a far bigger challenge — starting with ferrying the 4,000 invitees to the venue to ensuring they are seated in the allotted seats to guiding guests to the designated areas for a high tea. Guests have been requested to arrive as much as three hours ahead of the ceremony which is scheduled for 6 p.m. and all roads leading to Rashtrapati Bhavan will be closed to traffic by late noon.

Twelve buggies have been kept ready for those who will be unable to walk to the forecourt. Provisions have also been made for medical care, with ambulances and doctors on call, said Venu Rajamony, press secretary to the President.

Chairs have been laid out for the guests in the forecourt with the Jaipur Column in the backdrop; a red dais has been erected for the ceremony at the bottom of the steps that lead to the Durbar Hall, which has been the venue for such ceremonies in the past. There will be refreshments too. In the North Court, South Court and the Central Vista, where the live bands will play, guests will be treated to an assortment of snacks, including the famous Gujarati Dhokla.

Leaving no stone unturned, the President’s House is even ready for the weatherman’s forecast, which predicts a cloudy-sky and possible thundershowers. “Unfortunately we cannot have waterproof tents, but if it rains we will have provision for moving the guests to the Durbar hall, which can accommodate up to 800 people, there will also be umbrellas for a sizeable number,” said Ms. Paul, adding, “Let’s pray it doesn’t rain.”

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