In what turned out to be an awkward situation, visiting Chinese Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie’s expression of appreciation and goodwill gesture to the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots who ferried him from Mumbai to New Delhi bordered on violation of protocol norms in India.
The visiting dignitary handed over two envelopes containing Rs. 50,000 each to the two IAF pilots who had flown him and his delegation to the capital on Monday for the delegation-level talks with Defence Minister A.K. Antony.
Two Embraer and an Avro aircraft were sent to Mumbai to ferry the delegation. These aircraft, belonging to the communication squadron of the IAF, are used for top dignitaries such as the Prime Minister and the President for travel.
As Mumbai was pounded by heavy rain, the inland travel of General Liang and his delegation was taken care of by the IAF, sources said. Usually flying during the monsoon can be a bumpy affair but the Chinese Defence Minister was pleased with the way the IAF pilots handled the flight and flew him down to the capital smoothly.
The sources said that it is a normal custom for visiting dignitaries to present mementos as a token of their appreciation for the services rendered to them and their delegation; but money is never offered. Officials, familiar with VIP flights, said that whenever Indian dignitaries use these aircraft for their travel abroad, small mementos like pens, ties and other tokens are given to the aircraft crew. They said that in some countries crews do accept money but not in India.
Not briefed on protocol
The sources said when the pilots opened the packets, they realised that these contained money. The pilots informed the IAF headquarters which in turn has written to the Ministry of Defence. The money would be deposited in the Government Treasury, the sources said. Officials were inclined to believe that the visiting Minister was probably not well briefed on the protocol and customs followed in such situations in India.
General Liang and his 23-member delegation is flying out on Thursday morning, concluding their five-day visit to India.
Rain had played spoilsport during General Liang’s visit to South Block on Tuesday for talks with Mr. Antony. The guard of honour was given to him after the talks which went on for 90 minutes.