|Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands on the footboard of the Range Rover on his way to Janata Maidan in Bhubaneswar where the BJP's national executive meet is being held. Picture by Ashwinee Pati|
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today won the hearts of the people who braved a 38-degree Celsius temperature and crowded the pavements by riding on the footboard of a Range Rover for over 4km in two stretches in Bhubaneswar.
Modi, who is here to attend the BJP national executive meeting, had strapped on the seatbelt after stepping out of the airport and getting into the vehicle.
He unclasped the seatbelt soon after the SUV had travelled around half a kilometre, opened the door and started waving at the spectators who lined the road chanting "Modi, Modi, Modi"....
Then the Prime Minister stood on the footboard and rode in similar fashion for the next one-and-a-half kilometres. The 30-vehicle motorcade had slowed down considerably and Special Protection Group (SPG) commandos ran alongside the Range Rover.
"The Prime Minister was practically hanging from the door of the Range Rover with a security official standing beside him and holding the door open for him," said Jayant Mishra, a businessman who watched the cavalcade on its way to the Governor House.
In the vehicle that followed the Prime Minister's SUV, SPG inspector-general of police Y.K. Jethwa stood on the footboard, keeping a close watch on the motorcade.
After a 15-minute break at the Raj Bhavan, Modi set out to Janata Maidan, covering almost the entire distance of 4km standing on the footboard and waving.
"I was so happy to see the Prime Minister from such a close range," said Sujit Sahoo, a college student. "He is really the people's PM," gushed Rani Patra, a homemaker.
But those who watched should not get carried away.
In some cities such as Calcutta, the removal of the seatbelt alone in a moving vehicle would have fetched a fine. (In Bhubaneswar, seatbelt is mandatory only for drivers, not the passenger seated in the front left seat.)
Standing on the footboard or sticking one's neck out of a moving vehicle is not specifically listed as a traffic violation, a police officer said in Calcutta. However, in order to discourage stunts and avert distractions for other motorists, police sometimes take action against the drivers.
"It is not mandatory, but a driver could be prosecuted if one of the passengers of the vehicle chooses to stand on the footboard of the vehicle or sticks his neck out in a dangerous way," the officer said.
A transport official in the Odisha government described the Prime Minister's footboard ride as "dangerous".
The official added that even though Modi's vehicle was part of a ceremonial procession with vehicles moving at a slow pace, it would have been appropriate to avoid such a ride in his own interest.
A Delhi-based road specialist said the Prime Minister's position on the footboard of his moving vehicle was not a safe standing position for anyone but speculated that the Prime Minister's security staff must have taken precautions to bolster his safety on his vehicle during the road show.
"This is absolutely not a safe position to stand," said Kiran Kapila, president of the International Road Federation. "But I'm sure his security staff would have used some kind of a belt or harness and asked him to hold a fixed rod in the vehicle while moving," he said.
No harness could be noticed by the untrained eye but such safeguards need not always be evident from a distance.
Another aspect was security. Subjects of protection are most vulnerable when they are exposed in slow-moving vehicles. But Bhubaneswar DCP Satyabrat Bhoi said snipers were deployed at a few strategic locations.