What If They Threw an Olympic Torch Rally and No One Came?

The world's best-known sporting event was missing something when its symbol was run through India's capital city this afternoon: a single fan.

It's not that the Olympics doesn't garner great interest in India, which has the world's second-largest population. It's just that the organizers of today's less-than-two-mile torch relay chose lockdown over participation, chose security so stringent that not a single casual spectator was allowed to watch the torch's triumphant run down the city's most iconic boulevard.

The torch successfully completed what could have been its most volatile visit yet — a relay through the capital of India, which hosts the largest Tibetan population in the world outside of Tibet itself.

Earlier this month, in London and in Paris, Tibetan sympathizers tried to grab and extinguish the torch. And in India, the 100,000 Tibetans living here in exile have repeatedly organized protests condemning what they call Chinese atrocities in Tibet.

But this afternoon in central Delhi, there was not a Tibetan flag to be seen.

"We're not afraid of movements," the association's president, Suresh Kalmadi, told reporters in New Delhi ahead of the relay. "But we must be safe. They can have their movements somewhere else."

That somewhere else was anywhere but Rajpath, the equivalent of Washington's Mall, which is flanked on one side by Parliament and on the other side by India Gate, a war memorial and the city's best-known monument.

The government ensured the torch's safety by first limiting the route to that single, straight street after originally announcing it would snake through the city. And then it created an unprecedented security bubble.

At least 13,000 police and an undisclosed number of paramilitary officers lined the road, in addition to two Chinese security officers who jogged alongside the torch in trademark blue jumpsuits.

Streets usually packed with cars that surround Rajpath were cordoned off for hours.

That security meant residents were barred from seeing the torch relay unless they were watching it on their televisions. The organizers never publicly announced the official time of the relay, and journalists were told of the time (off by 90 minutes) only a few hours before the rally began.

Coke, one of the sponsors of the relay, bused in pre-screened school children to scream and wave in rafters near the stage at the end of the rally. But behind them sat hundreds of empty chairs, designated for fans who couldn't get within 1,500 feet of the torch.

"The Olympic torch is a symbol of brotherhood and harmony," said Mohan Singh, a member of India's parliament. "But Delhi has been turned into a prison."

Some 100,000 Tibetans live in India, led by the Dalai Lama, who has been given sanctuary in the hill town of Dharamsala since 1959. But the exiles stay on condition that they do not engage in anti-Chinese activities, and the government has been trying to improve its relationship with China in recent years.

The two have increased their bilateral trade and their militaries — two of the largest in the world — have conducted dual training missions. India and China fought a war in 1962.

Still, thousands of Tibetan protestors were allowed to hold a "March 4 Tibet" through the streets of central New Delhi, though they were watched over by police officers who carried tear gas.

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