The government has decided to shift the big aero show out of Bengaluru to Lucknow, stoking yet another controversy. The Aero Show that was competing with the big defence events across the world started in 1996 at the Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bengaluru. It was an international event with the big players from across the world participating with their wares as it were. This time, without any real warning, the Air Show is being shifted to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, where a small airfield Bakshi ka Talab lacking all infrastructure is now being hastily prepared to host the huge event just before the general elections.

Also the government wants the event to be preponed, from February 2019 as was scheduled to late October, early November this year.

The Karnataka government wrote in protest, and the decision expected to be announced by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman any time now, has taken the Air Force by surprise as well. Veterans point to the lack of security, but even more the feeble infrastructure at the Lucknow air force air strip, concerns that are being wished away by the political masters in the run up to the elections.

The focus for this airshow, given India’s own requirements, is fighter jets with the world defence manufacturers keen to display their aircraft and weaponry to bag what promise to be lucrative contracts. Covering what is actually a hard mercenary exercise, is the excitement of seeking the fighters perform in the air, and this for the government feeds into the larger atmosphere of nationalism and patriotism in the run up to the general elections. UP, with 80 Lok Sabha seats is crucial in what promises to be a keenly fought poll.

Karnataka, having gone the JD(U)-Congress way in the recent elections, clearly is now of the same importance for the BJP led government that knows as well as the opposition that the contest will now be for the states in the so called Hindi belt in the north. A Lucknow air show is expected to flavour the electoral campaign with the necessary spice of nationalist and patriotic fervour with Lucknow becoming host to global big ticket players in defence. This will also feed into the projection of UP as an industrial and manufacturing hub emphasised recently by a gathering of a galaxy of big business leaders in the state, along with promises to turn the backward, acutely poor state into a vision of prosperity under the combined leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adityanath.

It is probably a given, according to sources, that the air show in Lucknow might be scaled down ikf it is to avoid expected chaos and confusion. The military is visibly worried but is scrambling now to stitch it together. Defence Expo, another huge event, has also been following the electoral trajectory in that it was first shifted out to Goa when Manohar Parrikar was the defence minister. Goa, needless to say, is his home state. And now under Sitharaman the 10th edition of Defence Expo was shifted to her home state Tamil Nadu, regardless of the monies spent in creating an infrastructure. These are big shows, requiring huge bandobast and funds, both factors that tend to be eclipsed by political considerations. These shifts were undertaken despite criticism from within, with foreign defence manufacturing companies also not too happy with the shifts away from Delhi, where they also had access to policy makers.

It does seem that at least for now the two huge defence events have been converted into travelling fairs, regardless of infrastructure and budget considerations.How this will work for the industry remains to be seen, with politics replacing commerce as the guiding principle.