The 2019 edition of Aero India takes place from February 20-24 at its traditional site, the Yelahanka air base in Bengaluru. The Indian MoD today ended suspense today with an official announcement stating, ‘The Department of Defence Production is committed to make this a successful and result oriented show.’
Livefist had reported last month that a decision had been taken at the highest levels to move Aero India to the Bakshi ka Talab air base in Uttar Pradesh, and advance it by at least three months. While the government had veered closely to this decision to uproot Aero India and move it to north India, top sources say major pushback at multiple levels — from exhibitors, foreign militaries through their embassies, Indian state-owned firms and political parties — finally forced the government to cancel plans and maintain a status quo.
A senior officer at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) confirmed to HAL that the MoD had unofficially informed the company, which has a major hand in the organisation of Aero India, to be prepared for a Lucknow show. HAL had dispatched a site team to the Bakshi ka Talab base in early August as a result. However, suspense continued to prevail in the absence of a concrete announcement from the MoD. Things appeared even more to tilt towards the north Indian state when Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh made a public request last month for the show to be hosted in his state. It is now clear that a combination of factors has contributed to what most stake-holders at the show will see as sense prevailing.
Conversations with officials in the know reveal that the decision was likely based on the following factors:
- The most visible and voluble push-back the government received was from the ruling parties of Karnataka where Aero India is traditionally held. The Congress and JDS, which govern the state in a coalition arrangement, mounted an emotive campaign against the central government, accusing them of depriving Karnataka — India’s ‘aerospace hub’ of the right to host such a show. While the government is likely to argue that it took its own decision, this is likely to have added to the heat.
- The historic Kerala floods last month created a troubling situation for the central government in terms of a narrative created about how the government had ignored the requirements of a southern state. The narrative found a fair bit of traction. Sources suggest the government wouldn’t have wanted the shifting out of Aero India to add to the political ‘north-south’ abrasions. It is likely that in the overall calculus, the gains from moving such a show to the politically valuable state of Uttar Pradesh were found to be wanting, when offset against the other damage it could have caused.
- There was major push-back from Aero India exhibitors who expressed their dismay at the possibility of an early show. This would have meant almost no chance of bringing aircraft for India’s premier aviation show. This alone is likely to have been a major compelling factor for the government’s rethink.
- Top sources confirm to Livefist that while HAL had to play ball in scoping out the Bakshi ka Talab base for the show, senior leadership continued to advocate against it, since holding the show at Yelahanka would keep the show much more in control and lessen the variables and logistical vagaries of an entirely new location.
- While the MoD had pulled out all stops to see if the Bakshi ka Talab base in Lucknow could host a show like Aero India, it appears there were several bits of feedback that there would be bottlenecks in terms of access and accommodation. And considering the MoD’s aspirations with Aero India, it was concluded that rubbing the business-bringers the wrong way wasn’t quite the way to approach it.
- Finally, the fact that defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament from Karnataka is almost certain to have played a part in the decision.