Home­com­ing for Aero In­dia Airshow

Re­lo­cat­ing such shows in­clud­ing De­f­expo In­dia erodes th­ese shows’ in­ter­na­tional sta­tus and even­tu­ally sound its death knell


Af­ter nearly a month of dither­ing over the venue and the dates for or­gan­is­ing the 12th edi­tion of the pres­ti­gious Aero In­dia Airshow, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) fi­nally ended the un­cer­tainty on Satur­day, Septem­ber 8, 2018. As per a press re­lease by the MoD, the venue of the coun­try’s largest ex­hi­bi­tion in the do­main of aero­space and de­fence, will con­tinue to be In­dian Air Force (IAF) Sta­tion at Ye­la­hanka in Ben­galuru and the next Airshow will be held from Fe­bru­ary 20 to 24 in 2019 as per the orig­i­nal sched­ule.


It is un­der­stood that the storm over the venue and the time frame for the next Aero In­dia Airshow was kicked off in early Au­gust this year when Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Min­is­ter of Ut­tar Pradesh, pro­jected a re­quest to the MoD to hold the next edi­tion of this event at IAF Sta­tion, Bak­shi Ka Talab near Lucknow. This ini­tia­tive was sup­pos­edly driven by the fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests of the state of Ut­tar Pradesh and more specif­i­cally, by the plan of the Govern­ment of In­dia to es­tab­lish a ma­jor De­fence In­dus­try Cor­ri­dor in the state. But strictly speak­ing, in the fit­ness of things, the De­fence In­dus­try Cor­ri­dor should be func­tional be­fore ini­ti­at­ing any pro­posal for shift­ing Aero In­dia Airshow to Bak­shi Ka Talab, Lucknow or for that mat­ter for hold­ing any kind of de­fence and aero­space expo in the area for it to be mean­ing­ful.

While in­au­gu­rat­ing the De­fence In­dus­try Cor­ri­dor in Ali­garh in Au­gust this year, the Chief Min­is­ter of Ut­tar Pradesh had as­sured De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sitharaman that his govern­ment would pro­vide all the fa­cil­i­ties re­quired for the Airshow and urged her to an­nounce the de­ci­sion to re­lo­cate the Airshow to Bak­shi Ka Talab with­out de­lay. As stated by the Min­is­ter of De­fence, Nir­mala Sitharaman in a press con­fer­ence dur­ing her visit to Ben­galuru, sev­eral other states such as Gujarat, Ra­jasthan, Odisha and Tamil Nadu too had pro­jected a re­quest to host the event; but the Govern­ment of In­dia was yet to take a fi­nal de­ci­sion on the sub­ject. States are keen to host Aero In­dia Airshow as such an event gen­er­ates huge amount of rev­enue for the state

The pro­posal to re­lo­cate Aero In­dia Airshow had not only irked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state of Kar­nataka; but also the Congress-Janata Dal (Sec­u­lar) govern­ment in power in the state. Ever since the in­cep­tion of this event in 1996, Aero In­dia Airshow has al­ways been held at IAF Sta­tion Ye­la­hanka in Ben­galuru. The last edi­tion of the Air show was held in Fe­bru­ary 2017. The ini­tial de­ci­sion to lo­cate Aero In­dia Airshow in Ben­galuru was based on the fact that this city is the hub cen­tre of the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try, an at­tribute that cur­rently no other city in In­dia can match.

Air Force Sta­tion Ye­la­hanka has the ap­pro­pri­ate in­fra­struc­ture that an Airshow of the scale of Aero In­dia re­quires. Be­sides, the avail­abil­ity of Kempegowda In­ter­na­tional Air­port at Ben­galuru that pro­vides well de­vel­oped in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tiv­ity and has ex­cel­lent road con­nec­tiv­ity with the city, is of ex­treme con­ve­nience for for­eign com­pa­nies es­pe­cially those with size­able pres­ence of equip­ment and per­son­nel. The pro­posal to shift Aero In­dia Airshow away from Air Force Sta­tion Ye­la­hanka at Ben­galuru to Air Force Sta­tion, Bak­shi Ka Talab near Lucknow which can­not pro­vide the re­quired aero­space in­dus­try en­vi­ron­ment as well as fa­cil­i­ties, trig­gered a ma­jor re­ac­tion from all the stake­hold­ers that in­clude both the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ex­hibitors in­clud­ing global aero­space ma­jors and even the smaller en­ti­ties, mil­i­taries of for­eign na­tions in­clud­ing their Air Forces as well as their em­bassies in In­dia. This left the Govern­ment of In­dia with no op­tion other than to aban­don plans to re­lo­cate Aero In­dia Airshow and main­tain sta­tus quo. To add to the mo­men­tum of op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal to shift Aero In­dia Airshow out of Ben­galuru, all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Kar­nataka buried their dif­fer­ences and joined hands to res­o­lutely op­pose the move by the Govern­ment of In­dia. In fact, the Kar­nataka Govern­ment placed the onus of mak­ing the Govern­ment of In­dia re­tain the Airshow at Ye­la­hanka on the state unit of the BJP.


The move by the Govern­ment of In­dia to call off the pro­posal to re­lo­cate Aero In­dia Airshow away from Ben­galuru, has in­deed been a case of sec­ond home­com­ing for this pres­ti­gious event! But what is of sig­nif­i­cance is that this de­ci­sion will hope­fully pro­vide the much needed im­pe­tus to the case for bring­ing De­f­expo In­dia back to its orig­i­nal venue which is Pra­gati Maidan in New Delhi.

Like the Aero In­dia Airshow, De­f­expo In­dia is also or­gan­ised by the De­fence Ex­hi­bi­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion, which, es­tab­lished in 1981, is an au­ton­o­mous or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der the Govern­ment of In­dia. This or­gan­i­sa­tion was es­tab­lished to pro­mote ex­port po­ten­tial of the In­dian aero­space and de­fence in­dus­try. The agency is re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions as also to ar­range In­dian par­tic­i­pa­tion in aero­space and de­fence ex­hi­bi­tions over­seas. Or­gan­ised since the year 2000, De­f­expo In­dia is meant for show­cas­ing the na­tion’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties in Land, Naval and Se­cu­rity Sys­tems as well as its emer­gence as an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion for in­vest­ment in the aero­space and de­fence sec­tor.

Lo­cated in the heart of New Delhi, Pra­gati Maidan is a 123-acre com­plex with more than 61,290 square feet of cov­ered area for ex­hi­bi­tion. There are 16 dis­play halls and 10,000 square me­tres of open ground for dis­play, of­fer­ing an ex­cel­lent fa­cil­ity for in­ter­na­tional ex­hibitors. Since its in­cep­tion, De­f­expo In­dia had been held at Pra­gati Maidan in New Delhi till it was moved out to Goa in 2016 by the then De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar os­ten­si­bly for the rea­son that the the in­fra­struc­ture at Pra­gati Maidan was to un­dergo ma­jor ren­o­va­tion. This de­ci­sion turned out to be some­what con­tro­ver­sial as the In­dian Trade Pro­mo­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ITPO), the agency re­spon­si­ble for ren­o­va­tion of the fa­cil­ity, said that work on the fa­cil­ity could be post­poned to a later date if the MoD re­con­sid­ered its plan to shift De­f­expo out of New Delhi. ITPO could ill af­ford to lose De­f­expo as it was a ma­jor source of in­come for the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

With eight edi­tions of De­f­expo In­dia hav­ing been held suc­cess­fully at Pra­gati Maidan in New Delhi, the event had ac­quired a high level of grav­i­tas. Apart from the well de­vel­oped in­fra­struc­ture in New Delhi to sup­port De­f­expo In­dia, New Delhi be­ing the seat of the cen­tral govern­ment and home to the head­quar­ters of the In­dian Army, the In­dian Navy and the In­dian Air Force, the city of­fers far bet­ter pro­fes­sional and in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment for the global aero­space and de­fence ma­jors par­tic­i­pat­ing in De­f­expo In­dia. On the other hand, Goa is merely a tourist des­ti­na­tion with lit­tle or noth­ing to do with the aero­space and de­fence in­dus­try. Com­pared to Pra­gati Maidan in the ear­lier events, par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ninth edi­tion of De­f­expo In­dia was at a low key and the par­tic­i­pants were not quite en­thused with the ex­pe­ri­ence. In ret­ro­spect, the de­ci­sion to hold the event in Goa in 2016, was clearly flawed.

But what is more sur­pris­ing is that even af­ter the dis­com­fort­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of host­ing De­f­expo In­dia in Goa in 2016, the Govern­ment of In­dia de­cided to hold the tenth edi­tion of the event in 2018 in a re­mote lo­ca­tion in Tamil Nadu. Once again, the rea­son put for­ward was the plan to set up a De­fence In­dus­try Cor­ri­dor. The venue selected was Thiru­vi­dan­thai, a sub­ur­ban vil­lage four km from Cove­long on the East Coast Road in Kancheep­u­ram, far South of Chennai. The ex­pe­ri­ence of those at­tend­ing De­f­expo In­dia 2018 in a re­mote lo­ca­tion in Tamil Nadu was no dif­fer­ent from that in Goa.

It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that to re­tain its sta­tus as a ma­jor aero­space and de­fence ex­hi­bi­tion of in­ter­na­tional re­pute, De­f­expo In­dia must be brought back to Delhi and be held at Pra­gati Maidan or at any other suitable fa­cil­ity in the na­tional cap­i­tal re­gion that is be­fit­ting its global sta­tus. Mak­ing it a “trav­el­ling cir­cus” would pro­gres­sively erode its in­ter­na­tional sta­tus and even­tu­ally sound its death knell.

New Delhi be­ing the seat of the cen­tral govern­ment and home to the head­quar­ters of the In­dian armed forces, the city of­fers far bet­ter pro­fes­sional and in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment for the global ma­jors par­tic­i­pat­ing in De­f­expo In­dia

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