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Relocating such shows including Defexpo India erodes these shows’ international status and eventually sound its death knell
|By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)
Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command, IAF
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.
MOVING AERO INDIA AIRSHOW TO LUCKNOW
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.
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
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.
BRING DEFEXPO INDIA BACK TO DELHI
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.