A ‘mesmerising backwater’

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The well-known slogan from India’s tourism promoters is ‘Incredible India!’ One online dictionary describes incredible as: ‘so extraordinary as to seem impossible’, or ‘not credible; hard to believe’.

It’s true that there were many incredible things about DefExpo 2016.

The decision to transfer DefExpo from Delhi to Goa was one such difficult-to-comprehend move. As far as I can tell, the only rational explanation was that India’s minister of defence hails from Goa. Incredible!

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Even just one month out from the start of DefExpo 2016, I discovered some disconcerting news whilst chatting with Indian journalists at the Singapore Airshow. At that stage the virgin exhibition site was completely vacant, with no electricity, no water, no sewerage, no buildings. Nada. In fact, a contract hadn’t even been awarded to set up the site. Incredible!

Apparently an Indian general had gone to visit the site in February and had been blocked by protesters, showing that there was a lot of local discontent about having DefExpo in their state. At the opening ceremony one prominent politician described the protests as ‘misconducted propaganda’.

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Even finding out where the actual site was on Google Earth or Google Maps was impossible. It just didn’t show up and DefExpo organisers didn’t provide any detailed maps. That certainly made it more difficult choosing a hotel that was going to be reasonably close. Incredible!

What’s more, the roads in Goa are narrow, with promises of traffic chaos and congestion as international exhibitors beat a path to the mysterious location in the middle of nowhere. At the inauguration ceremony, one politician admitted that ‘a lot of people in Goa love narrow and winding roads’. Incredible!

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Perhaps my favourite quote from the whole DefExpo event was the Goa state minister describing his home as a ‘mesmerising backwater’! This underscored all the more the weird decision to hold a large international defence exhibition in what really is a backwater, a popular beach holiday destination for Indians and Russians.

I even read a newspaper report about grand plans to make the middle-of-nowhere site a permanent exhibition site for not only DefExpo, but also for AeroIndia, which is held at Bengaluru biennially. The report confidently spoke of building a runway and hosting the aircraft show there. Incredible!

Keep your eye out for part 2 of this rambling reflection in a couple of days’ time as I actually arrive at the show site… It was indeed incredible!

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