An unseemly row over shifting the biennial Aero India event from Bengaluru to Lucknow has finally come to an end, with the Ministry of Defence announcing that the 2019 edition of the mega event will be held, as always, at Bengaluru’s Yelahanka Airforce Station. Bengaluru has hosted this event from its very first edition in 1996, when India first began holding the air show. Not surprisingly, recent moves to shift the event out of Bengaluru raised hackles not just in Karnataka but also among global aerospace players. The row erupted in early August when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that he had written to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asking for the upcoming Aero India edition to be held in Lucknow. A day later, Sitaraman confirmed that the MoD was indeed considering “many demands from various states” to host the event and that a decision in this regard was yet to be made. She did not say why the Narendra Modi government was considering changing the venue. Proponents of the shift to Lucknow said holding the Aero India event there would enable the Uttar Pradesh government to showcase its recently inaugurated Defence Industrial Corridor. Besides, the UP government was in a position to provide the event all the required facilities, its chief minister trumpeted.
Bengaluru has done a fine job of hosting the event, attracting an ever-growing number of major aerospace industry players, not only to the air show but to subsequently set up their global engineering and R&D centres in the city. Bengaluru has been able to do so because even in the late 1990s, it already had the critical mass to be India’s aerospace hub, being home to a quarter of the country’s defence-related labs, defence PSUs HAL and BEL as well as India’s space agency Isro. It is also India’s technology capital, home to the outsourcing industry as well as being the country’s start-up capital. Given all this, it has well-developed soft infrastructure — hotels, volunteer manpower, etc — to cater to events of the scale of Aero India. Bengaluru is far ahead of India’s other cities, let alone Lucknow.
It is evident that political motivations rather than business, technical and logistic factors drove the Modi government to consider moving Aero India out of Bengaluru to a BJP-ruled state that is critical for the party in the 2019 elections. In the end, the decision not to do so is welcome. Good sense has prevailed. However, the Centre should have avoided triggering the confusion in the first place as the speculation, rumours and flip-flops on the issue caused much uncertainty among aerospace companies. By playing politics on the matter, India cut a sorry picture internationally.