New Delhi, Apr 17: India today lived up to its promise of providing a safe passage to the Olympic Torch as its forces kept at bay hundreds of Tibetans who had gathered here to disrupt the relay in protest against the Chinese ''repression'' in Tibet. Scores of Tibetan protestors were arrested as they tried to break the heavy security cordon at various places along Rajpath to douse the torch that arrived here from Pakistan early today.
While the assurances to the Chinese were fully met, the Government also allowed the Tibetans to take out a symbolic parallel torch run and stage peaceful protests at Jantar Mantar, a few hundred yards from the main relay. More than 16,000 security personnel drawn from NSG, the Delhi Police and central para military forces were deployed along the truncated 2.3-km relay from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate, a path kept out of bounds for the public. The massive security presence was necessitated by the fact that India is home to tens of thousands of Tibetans who have fled the Chinese rule in Tibet.
It was a heady mix of sports and glamour as cine stars Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and 'Chak De India' Girl Sagarika Ghatge rubbed shoulders with legendary athletes Milkha Singh and P T Usha, while hockey greats Ajit Pal Singh, Dhanraj Pillay, Zafar Iqbal, M P Ganesh and Aslam Sher Khan went down the memory lane.
There were sportspersons like Khazan Singh, Karnam Malleswari, Kunjarani Devi, Shiny Wilson and Anju Bobby George who did India proud with their sterling showing in international fora.
The climax of this 55-minute show was the joint run by tennis duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who handed over the torch to Sports Minister M S Gill at India Gate on its next run to Bangkok. The Paes-Bhupathi duo joining hands thrilled the small crowd. ''The Indian Express'' is the medal hope for India at Beijing and it is indeed great to see them together and,''We shall thank the Olympic Torch for that,'' remarked an official who was accomanying the relay. ''For any sportsperson, it is an ultimate desire to take part in the Olympics,'' said former hockey captain Ajit Pal Singh. ''And to run for the Games, like carrying the Olympic torch is also a great honour,'' he added.
The flame was lit at the specially designed stage just outside the Rashtrapati Bhawan by a three-member special Chinese task force, which had been accompanying the torch from the start.
After lighting the torch, they handed it over to Beijing Olympic Games Organising committee (BOGOC) vice president Jiang Xiaoyu who in turn gave it to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.
The Chief Minister then handed the torch to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi who ran 15 meters before giving it to Milkha Singh.
The two oldest participants in the rally were hockey legends Balbir Singh (sr) and Cdr Nandy Singh. Balbir was a member of the Indian Gold medal winning team of 1948, 1952 and 1956 while Nandy represented the country in 1948 and 1952.
All the 67 participants were brought to the starting point near the Rashtrapati Bhawan in three buses. A fleet of cars carrying the Chinese officials and the torch followed them.
The participants were called on the stage one by one for their introduction and after that the relay began.
There were a few technical glitches, which saw the light of couple of torches going off but the matter was set right in no time and the relay continued.
Earlier, former Defence Minister George Fernandes, a known China baiter, flagged off the Tibetan parallel peace run, named Torch 4 Tibet, from Rajghat.
India had earlier assured China of a safe passage to the Olympic Torch to its next destination, but at the same time asserted that being a democracy it will not stop protests by the Tibetans in the country.