With just months to go for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to farmers and voters in the western part of the state today, as he laid the foundation stone for the Noida International Airport near Jewar in Gautam Buddh Nagar.
Making his first public appearance in western UP since he said the three farm laws would be scrapped, the Prime Minister stressed on the benefits to farmers from the airport and the extensive road and infrastructure projects being built by in the region by his party's government.
"Farmers in the region will be able to export perishable goods like vegetables, fruits, fish and produce directly to the world," PM Modi told a crowd of thousands from a platform surrounded, for the most part, by acres of villages, small towns and farms.
"There are many industrial areas like Aligarh, Mathura, Meerut, Agra, Bijnor, Moradabad and Bareilly... but western UP has a significant share in the agriculture sector as well. Now the power of these areas will also increase a lot," he said.
"Thousands of employment opportunities are created during airport construction. This airport will also give new employment to thousands of people of western UP," the Prime Minister added.
Earlier Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said he expected Rs 35,000 crore in investment and over one lakh jobs once the airport is fully built.
"Projects worth lakhs of crores are going on in western UP. Be it rapid rail corridors, expressways, metros, dedicated freight corridors linking to the eastern and western seas... these are becoming the new identity of the modern Uttar Pradesh," the Prime Minister said, as he took an opportunistic swipe at "past governments" who had neglected to cater to western UP's infrastructure needs.
Farmers across the country have protested for nearly 15 months against three laws they say will leave them at the mercy of corporate firms, and rob them of a price guarantee scheme.
Many are from western UP, where farmers' votes could make (or break) BJP aspirations to retain power, leading the opposition to question the timing of the centre's decision. The BJP has taken several hits, including over the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and skyrocketing fuel and vegetable prices.
Meanwhile, as PM Modi extolled the Noida airport and its virtues, in Lucknow his main rival in the state - Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav - was attending a political rally.
Mr Yadav has been quietly stitching together an alliance of regional parties to take on the ruling BJP.
He is widely expected to tie up with Jayant Chaudhary's Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has a major presence in western UP - where the farmers' vote could well be key in determining the BJP's fortunes, both in the area and the state, and maybe even in the 2024 general election.
Earlier this month Mr Yadav told NDTV he envisioned a "pincer movement" - angry farmers in east UP and regional parties in the west - wiping out the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
Farmers protesting the centre's "black" laws expressed cautious optimism when PM Modi said the laws would be scrapped. They pointed out that the real battle was getting a legal guarantee for the MSP (minimum support price) scheme, and that the centre had made no commitments on that.
They then indicated they would continue their protests till the three laws are formally rolled back, which should take place during the Parliament session that begins Monday. Their reluctance to stand down has been pitched by the opposition as a sign of lack of trust in the Prime Minister's promises.