Continuing the practice of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defence ministers shifting the biennial DefExpo defence equipment exhibition to their home state, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will kick off DefExpo 2020 in Lucknow on Wednesday.
In 2016, then defence minister Manohar Parrikar shifted DefExpo from New Delhi to Goa, amidst huge opposition from environmental activists. Two years later, Nirmala Sitharaman shifted DefExpo 2018 to Chennai.
Like Parrikar and Sitharaman, Singh claimed on Tuesday that the current version of DefExpo had broken all previous records. Addressing the media in Lucknow, along with his co-host, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the defence minister stated that more than 1,000 defence firms — including 856 Indian and 172 foreign companies — would participate in Defexpo.
“In the DefExpo 2018, held in Chennai, 702 companies had participated. Thus, this has become by far the biggest ever DefExpo to be held in India,” stated the defence ministry in an official release on Tuesday.
The ministry also claimed that exhibitors had booked 42,800 square metres of exhibition space this year, 60 per cent higher than the 26,774 square metres booked in Chennai.
Defence ministers and military chiefs of 40 countries will attend the event this year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said. Two hundred memoranda of undertaking (MoUs) are expected to be inked, forging new business collaborations.
For the first time, the presence of the local chief minister noticeably eclipsed that of the defence minister. Adityanath’s visage adorned all the posters on equal terms with that of Singh. The defence minister’s pre-event press conference was not attended by a single uniformed military officer. Instead, with Adityanath sharing the stage, UP police officers and bureaucrats were everywhere.
One of Adityanath’s official’s addressed the media before Singh, explaining why UP was hosting the event. They said UP had the third-largest economy amongst India’s states, the highest consumer base, the second highest highway network at 11,737 kilometres and the largest rail network at 16,000 km of track.
They claimed a world record in that 56 per cent of the state’s population of 220 million was of working age. The state has 53 universities, 345 colleges and 168 polytechnics, they stated.
Adityanath talked up the UP Defence Industrial Corridor, which would provide an infrastructure backbone for the defence industry, which would come up around nine nodes: Chitrakoot, Jhansi, Kanpur, Agra, Aligarh, Ghaziabad and Meerut.
UP has set a land acquisition target of 25,000 acres for defence industry. The first phase of this was already well underway, with close to 3,000 acres already identified.
Singh said the DefExpo would provide the opportunity for the military to get familiar with changing global technology.
“We will not just achieve our target of being a $5 trillion economy by 2024, but by the time this decade is over, we will be amongst the world’s top three economies,” said the defence minister.
Singh said there would be skeptics, but those would go through four stages of opposition: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” he said.
After an informal start to DefExpo 2020 on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to formally inaugurate the exhibition in the afternoon. It is slated to run till Sunday, with the last two days being open to public.