US President Bill Clinton's visit to Hyderabad and where my nose for news led me

US President Bill Clinton's visit to Hyderabad and where my  nose for news led me

Bill Clinton was coming to town. A US President flying down to Hyderabad was significant. March 24, 2000 was the day he would arrive.

I was curious. What goes into the coming of the most powerful person on earth? That there is meticulous planning is anybody’s guess. That the security will be tight goes without saying. There were official functions arranged. Those we could anyway cover in the newspaper.  What more? What else?

So I got interested in the weather.

Weather? Well, the weather was clear. In any case, once he arrived at the Begumpet airport, he was to travel by road to the couple of functions that had been lined up for him. He would return to the airport by road and fly off.

The weather was clear. But I was still keen on checking it with the weather officials directly by personally meeting them. It was, actually, a means to an end. An idea that would open up a world for me.

The Meteorological Centre Hyderabad was situated on the airport premises, on the first floor of the building. With the security pass, I proceed to the office, spoke to the officials and the work was done. The weather was all clear. I could see it.

But I could see more. Planes landing. Not the regular flights. This was a separate area at the airport where all the activity was taking place. A large transport plane arrived. A helicopter emerged from it!

Hadn’t I come here for this very purpose to seeing for myself the activity that I was sure taking place in view of Clinton’s visit? I hanged around. There was intense activity. The US security personnel arrived. There were cartons that were unloaded. There was frenetic activity. This precisely was what I had anticipated. I made a mental note of the goings on. More aircraft arrived.  Cars in them. All this was providing me an insight into what happens before an Air Force One arrives carrying the most protected person in the world.

Then I dared to do something. I approached one of the US officials. I straightaway identified myself as a reporter. He appeared to be in a bit of a confusion. How could a reporter get access to where they were? I explained to him that I had come to the weather office and that I was on my way out and decided to come and talk to him. Only I knew, the weather office was to serve more than one purpose for me.

“What arrangements are being made for the President’s arrival?” I asked him. He looked to the left. Then to the right. He looked back. But refused to look at me or make eye contact. He literally pursed his lips. Well, I knew he was not authorised to talk. But I also knew that my responsibility was to talk to him – even if he were not to answer my questions.  I glanced around. Surveyed. It was interesting.

The next day, the copy in the newspaper made for interesting reading – of what goes into the arrival of a US President.

So far so good. But it got only better. Bill Clinton wears shirts that are made in Hyderabad, India. Now how’s that? What does it take for one to believe that? The shirts are made in Balanagar and I got to speak to the manufacturer. The shirts are made here under order and get sold under a certain brandname in the US – which is what Clinton wears. 

My friend Anand Vijayender tipped me off. Anand is my first friend in journalism. We worked together in Citizen’s Evening. He was in the desk as a sub-editor and I was a reporter. A newcomer I was, but he made me feel comfortable in an office atmosphere as this was my first job. Later, he quit journalism to pursue a different line. The journalist in him remained. He informed me about the shirt and through him I could also speak to the manufacturer. Locally, it sure was of interest.

Clinton came. He attended a programme at Mahaveer Hospital. We were escorted to a place arranged for the media. There was unobtrusive security. After the programme, Clinton got down the dais and came forward to greet the small crowd that had been invited to attend the programme. The barricades were there but all the same it was a close and pleasant encounter. Clinton left. Chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu had an informal one-on-one meeting with him in the director’s chamber – something that we got to find out.

After his programmes in the city, one important one at Hitec city, Clinton left. I was at the airport as VVIPs gave him a warm send off. Air Force One took off. The gathering too left. The plane was headed to Pakistan. Something interesting happened which I got to know about only later after he landed in Islamabad. The visit to Pakistan was significant as it was the first visit of a US President to that country after Gen Pervez Musharaff seized power in an army coup.

At Hyderabad, Clinton got into the aircraft and waved his ‘good byes’. The fact was that from that aircraft, Clinton then got into another aircraft that was stationed close to it at the Begumpet airport. Everyone waved to the aircraft that had taken off assuming he was in it. The aircraft with Bill Clinton in it took off only after a small gap. The US intelligence agencies had taken the extra security precaution as they wanted no security issues as the US President emplaned to Pakistan during a critical situation.

As for everyone, as I mentioned, they waived to an aircraft in which Clinton was not there!



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