Narendra Modi, known for his communication skills, is unlikely to hold an on-board press conference during his two-day Bhutan trip starting Sunday. Modi will be forced to drop the customary practice in his maiden outing as prime minister because he's flying in an aircraft that's small enough to land at the Paro airstrip, from where he will take a helicopter to Thimpu for his bilateral talks, it is learnt.
The plane, a 737 Boeing Business Jet (popularly known as BBJ), does not have conference facilities, otherwise available in AI-001 (Boeing 747) - home for the Indian PM in the air for most of his international trips. Three 737 BBJs were acquired by the Indian Air Force in 2009. Specially configured with sophisticated protection devices for VVIPs, these planes are believed to be mostly used by the Prime Minister and the President for travel within India.
Modi's first foreign visit as PM comes within 20 days of taking charge. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went on his first international engagement - to a Bangkok summit - around two months after assuming office in 2004.
While Modi along with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and a team of around 10 officials make up for the contingent, representatives of about eight news organisations including state-owned Doordarshan and All India Radio will travel on the PM's plane. "There's limited media because of the size of the aircraft," a source said. Even so, Modi may not have respite from the hounding media in Bhutan, as at least 30 teams from various newspapers and TV channels have either already reached or are on their way to Thimpu. Some adventurous media personnel are even taking the road route from Bagdogra, a tea garden district in Darjeeling, to witness Modi's first foreign visit, said an official who did not wish to be identified.
When Manmohan Singh had travelled to Bhutan a few years ago, a second plane with media personnel had flown as well.
Whether at the Taj Tashi luxury hotel where he will stay for two days or at the official banquets, Modi's meal preferences have been conveyed to the hosts. While it will be a completely vegetarian platter, the PM is likely to get a taste of Bhutanese cuisine too, with emphasis on the locally grown asparagus. There are no interpreters flying with Modi.