Ashwini Phadnis

Deputy Editor in The Hindu Business Line covering Civil aviation, Defence and Ministry of External Affairs.

Ashwini Phadnis

Are we paranoid about security?

| Updated on April 16, 2013 Published on April 16, 2013
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the chancellery in Berlin

germany

Perhaps the only thing that struck me as I travelled as a part of a 30-strong Indian media team with Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh to Berlin is how unobtrusive security is in Germany .

As the Boeing 747-400 aircraft (nicknamed Air India 001) landed in Berlin after an over 8 hour flight I was asked to board the waiting bus standing metres away from a fleet of cars including the Audi which was Singh’s personal car during his 45 hour trip to the German capital.

No German immigration official came to collect my passport to put the mandatory immigration stamp which would show that I had indeed visited Berlin (in Delhi my passport was stamped by an immigration official sitting under a shamiana both when I left and when I returned).

This, as I realised, was just the beginning of a trip with a difference. Since the Prime Minister didn’t seem to be in a hurry to deplane, I like most media people jumped off the bus which was to take us to our hotel and started clicking photographs with Air India 001 as the backdrop. Soon enough Singh climbed off the aircraft and after inspecting a guard of honour sped off to the Adlon Kempinski hotel which was his home for the next two days.

The following day as my VW minivan approached the gate of the Federal Chancellery where Chancellor Merkel and Singh were having delegation level talks, German security flagged down the vehicle. The Federal Chancellery is a complex of buildings situated around the seat of the German Parliament and was built to house Government institutions following the relocation of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin. Surely they would be security conscious here!

“Aah,” I thought, “finally it will feel like home. We will be thoroughly security checked before being allowed into the building.”

But no, only the number plate of our car was checked and we were allowed into what many in India call a “high security building”. No one conducted a body check or even checked my bag which had a lap top, a camera and a recording device. It took nothing to get into the room where apart from the two Prime Ministers, there were also important members of the German and Indian cabinets. Can anyone imagine walking into Hyderabad house in Delhi so easily when two heads of state are conducting a meeting there? Forget that, can anyone even drive past the building without encountering road blocks and traffic jams when a head of state is inside?

The only exception came the next day when we went back to Tegel airport to board Air India 001 for the flight back to Delhi. Though we entered the airport without any hassles, this time around the lap top had to be taken out of the bag and put into a separate plastic container as also any metallic objects be it watches or belts etc. Compare this to what happened in Delhi. In order to get my car to the technical area in Delhi airport from where we took off I not only had to provide the name of the driver and two of his photographs but also the name of his father, proof of his residence address and also car papers and that too days before the flight.

All this makes me wonder: are Indians more paranoid than is actually required about security? Or is it that the Germans have come up with something more advanced where they are as security conscious but without it being so in-the-face? Which of the two approaches is better? Would security arrangements which are not so obvious work in a country like India ?

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Published on April 16, 2013
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