THE men of the KGB's ninth directorate were taking no chances. As the four bulletproof Zil limousines swung into the yard of the handicraft shop, bodyguards of the Soviet secret police (KGB) were already jumping out of the rear cars, closing the high gates of the compound, and surrounding Raisa Gorbachev's car. Other Indian and Soviet security men, more than 100 in all, had already sealed the building.
Raisa's shopping trip to the Indian Handicrafts Emporium - a rambling building just outside New Delhi filled with silks, handmade carpets, ivory, and jewelry - provided the press with a useful opportunity to see her up close. It also offered a chance to see the Gorbachevs' personal bodyguards in action. Both the bodyguards and Mrs. Gorbachev proved very good at their job; their objectives, however, were not always compatible.
The KGB's ninth directorate handles VIP protection. The Gorbachev family's bodyguards, naturally the elite, are reportedly commanded by a Maj. Gen. Dokuchayev, a deputy chief of the directorate. With Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev safe in the Soviet Embassy in New Delhi, reliable sources say, General Dokuchayev was making a rare public appearance with Mrs. Gorbachev.
The man identified as Dokuchayev, a stocky man in a silver-gray suit, stood discreetly to one side during the visit. The security operation at the emporium was directed by a burly middle-aged man in a dark suit who moved with an equally heavy-set interpreter and an aide carrying a field radio. The security team also included a preoccupied-looking man carrying a briefcase who was rarely more than a few steps away from Mrs. Gorbachev - a doctor, sources say.
``The best thing is to stay away from these people,'' an official remarked during one recent public appearance by Gorbachev. ``They are absolutely untouchable.''
Some of Mrs. Gorbachev's bodyguards, however, seemed remarkably diplomatic.
``Let's not get excited,'' said one with a relaxed smile, as he held back a group of photographers. Others were less subtle. One bodyguard, who apparently decided I was too close to Mrs. Gorbachev, raised his hand lazily and gave me a poke in the ribs which I remembered for much of the afternoon.
No guns were visible on either the Soviet or the Indian security men. But the bulges under the KGB men's suits indicated they were well armed.
``I was with some of them recently when they took their jackets off,'' one security official remarked. ``I never saw so many guns. Some of them had two strapped under their coats.''
The emporium is a regular stopping place for VIPs. Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, is still remembered with deep affection by the five brothers who run the store. The late Shah of Iran also visited. But the shop's president, Mahesh Chand, said that security had never been as tight as this.
Security men had started to move into the shop the night before, one of the brothers said. By noon the place had virtually been sealed off. (Mrs. Gorbachev arrived just before 3 p.m.) Neither the Indians nor the Soviets would say how many security men they had fielded. One Indian policeman, however, said the Indian contingent consisted of at least 75 men. And one of the brothers who run the store added that there were about 25 KGB agents.
Asked how he knew, he shrugged apologetically.
``You see, we always give our VIPs presents, so we like to know how many people are in the party.''
The KGB officer in charge had declined to say how many men he had, so the staff had done its own count. The bodyguards would be receiving presents of brassware and handbags.
During one final check of the store, the KGB officer in charge was accompanied by Mr. Chand. At the end of the inspection, Chand could not resist a little business.
``You come back tomorrow,'' he told the KGB officer, ``and I will show you everything in the shop.'' Journalists had been told the same thing and were offered a 20 percent discount. The KGB discount was not revealed.
``Perhaps I'll come back when I retire,'' the KGB man countered. ``I'm busy tomorrow.''
Mrs. Gorbachev was to receive a jewel-encrusted piece of embroidery.
``A present fit for a czar,'' a KGB man commented when he saw it. He nonetheless checked it out carefully.
When journalists asked the price of the gift, several of the brothers demurred.
``Beyond value,'' one said. ``We should not say,'' said another; ``15,000 rupees [$1,200],'' said another.
To the frustration of the press and both Indian and Soviet officials, the security specialists would not allow journalists to cover Mrs. Gorbachev's trip around the shop. When the Soviet bodyguards prevented an Indian government film team from following her into the shop, an Indian official became irritated.
``Look, they are wearing Indian government passes, not press passes,'' he protested. The team was allowed in when the Soviets then decided they wanted their television team in for the sake of parity. But the official blocked their path.
``I don't see anything on their passes that says they are government,'' he announced. The team stayed outside.
The person probably most frustrated by this was Mrs. Gorbachev. She is intensely media conscious. During a brief tour of the emporium gardens, she was careful to provide a couple of photo opportunities. At the end of the tour, when she was presented with the embroidery, she glanced around to see where the TV teams were and lingered to chat with the press.
Had she bought anything in the shop? she was asked. A silk sari for her daughter, she replied. Emporium staff members disagreed on the color, and the price estimates started at 200 rupees, or $17.
How about her husband or herself? someone asked. ``No, for us the best gift is visiting the Indian people.''