Flying in to Myanmar’s capital on a scheduled flight even as his peers arrived on special aircraft, Nepal’s newly appointed Prime Minister Sushil Koirala held out a quiet lesson in austerity to regional leaders who are attending a seven-nation summit in Myanmar.
Mr. Koirala, Nepali diplomatic sources said, flew business class from Kathmandu to Bangkok on a scheduled Thai airways flight and then caught connecting flights to Yangon and Nay Pyi Daw after an overnight layover on Sunday.
His delegation is made up just seven officials — in stark contrast with the over 100 delegates, staff and media who have accompanied Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the summit. Mr. Singh and his entourage, which includes 37 journalists, flew in on a Boeing 747 chartered from Air India.
Mr. Koirala, who spent three years in jail in India decades ago on charges of hijacking a plane carrying cash to fund pro-democracy politics in Nepal, is known for his austere lifestyle.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa also arrived in a chartered aircraft, a Sri Lankan airlines Airbus A-340. Mr. Rajapaksa’s delegation was made up of 71 people. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina brought an entourage of 37, including five independent journalists.
“Don’t give people ideas,” joked External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, responding to Nepali media reports that incorrectly claimed that Mr. Koirala had travelled economy class. “They’ll expect all of us to do the same.”
Mr Khurshid, however, flew business class to Nay Pyi Taw, like Mr. Koirala.
Large expenses by leaders on foreign tours have become a politically volatile issue in many cash-strapped countries. Last year, revelations that Mr. Singh had spent Rs. 640 crore on foreign tours since 2004 generated a large flow of critical media comment.