A ceremony of pomp and pageantry greeted Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on Friday upon his arrival in India for a three-day summit between the communist superpower and the world's most populous democracy.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi changed his schedule and showed up unexpectedly at the airport for the noon landing of Gorbachev, who was accompanied by his wife, Raisa, and a delegation that included Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.The two leaders then boarded limousines and sped toward the British-built presidential palace along a 12-mile-long route lined with gun-toting guards as well as banners, flowers, dancers, musicians and about 100,000 schoolchildren who waved Indian and Soviet flags.
Turbaned troops in the full dress uniform of the Bengal Lancers cavalry flanked the palace courtyard as the Soviet leader emerged from his black bulletproof limousine to the booms of a 21-gun salute.
After being greeted by President Ramaswamy Venka-taraman, Gorbachev strode to a dais and stood at attention while a band played both nations' anthems. He then briskly inspected an interservice honor guard accompanied by an Indian protocol officer and a Soviet security guard.
"We are here to strengthen our ties," Gorbachev told reporters. "This visit will be another major step in building our relationship, which we value and indeed cherish."
Gorbachev later entered the presidential palace to call on Venkatara-man, who holds the largely ceremonial position of head of state.
Gandhi and Vice President Shan-kar Dayal Sharma held informal discussions later in the day with the Soviet president.
Gorbachev on Saturday is expected to close a yearlong Soviet festival in India, receive a peace prize and meet again with Gandhi for formal talks on a broad range of international issues.
"We are friends and know each other well," Foreign Secretary K.P.S. Menon said. "Naturally, everything under the sun will be discussed."
But experts expected the talks to be dominated by the two countries' strategies toward Afghanistan and China. India generally sides on foreign policy issues with Moscow, its main arms supplier. The Kremlin's close relationship with India is in balance against the partnership of China and Pakistan, which is Washington's main ally in South Asia.
Analysts said New Delhi has been concerned about Moscow's moves toward normalizing relations with China, India's adversary since a 1962 border war.
Gandhi is scheduled to visit Beij-ing in December, and Gorbachev also may travel to China next April.
Experts said the Soviet leader's New Delhi visit - his second since November 1986 - was partly to assure India of continued support.