Professional and technical considerations have, fortunately, taken precedence over political pressures and the move to shift the 2019 edition of Aero India away from IAF Yelahanka (on the outskirts of Bengaluru) has been junked ~ at least for now. The overdue statement from the Defence Ministry confirming the venue amounts to a snub to the high-flying bid of Yogi Adityanath to have India’s only international air-show moved to Lucknow to bolster his effort to project UP as an upcoming hub for defence production: a clear case of wanting to run before learning to walk.
Conversely, Adityanath’s loss is HD Kumaraswamy’s gain ~ the Karnataka chief minister had battled to retain the biennial event his state has hosted since 1996. With the air eventually being cleared, both the authorities at Yelahanka and the national and international participants can get down to serious work for the show scheduled for coming February.
They will have a degree of “catch-up” to play, dithering over announcing the venue created avoidable complications, particularly for exhibitors/participants from abroad. Obviously military efficiency does not rank high with a ministry that had little hesitation in drafting Army engineers to erect a pedestrian overbridge at a suburban railway station.
No doubt the Yogi’s success is critical to the political fortunes of the BJP: hence a defence production “corridor” is being located in UP which, to be fair it must be stated, always had a few ordnance factories. Yet to overnight project it as a major centre for the aviation/aerospace industry was overly-ambitious ~ to put it rather charitably. And while Kanpur does host a facility of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (the Dornier 228s are built there, as were the HS-748 transports), even that town was bypassed, the preferred venue for the unsuccessful bid for Aero India was politically more rewarding Lucknow ~ the IAF station at Baskshi-ka-Talab to be precise.
That Yelahanka has better infrastructure, Bengaluru is the home of the domestic aviation industry, and it has a flourishing hospitality service to cater to visitors all counted for little. A minister in the UP government waxed eloquent that if his state could conduct the Kumbh Mela, running Aero India was child’s play. That tells you something.
What had military aviation experts worried was that Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman’s prolonged silence fuelled UP’s ambitions ~ the mess that has resulted from the political decision to relocate the DefExpo is not easily forgotten.
Adding to apprehensions that the minister does not differentiate her defence duties from her political fire-fighting is the fact that the BJP is still smarting over being outplayed by the Congress-JD(S) combine in Karnataka: depriving Bengaluru of Aero India would have been sweet revenge. It is indeed churlish to drag security-linked issues into the quagmire of pathetic political speculation ~ but who can deny that the prevailing climate triggers such thinking?