Modi's Hercules plane lands on new motorway in India

Mr Narendra Modi (front) after landing in a Hercules aircraft at the new Purvanchal Expressway in Sultanpur district in Uttar Pradesh state, on Nov 16, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in a Hercules transport aircraft on India's newest motorway on Tuesday (Nov 16), in a spectacular stunt highlighting the country's dual-use roads that double up as emergency military airstrips.

The giant plane carrying Mr Modi landed on a dead-straight stretch of the new expressway in Uttar Pradesh before a brief air show by the Indian Air Force with French-made Mirage jets and Russian Su-30MKIs using the road as a runway.

"India's prosperity is as important as our national security. This expressway has become a new strength for our Air Force," Mr Modi said at a public gathering at the event.

India has one other hybrid highway in Rajasthan state near the Pakistan border.

But the government plans 12 others as it boosts its military capabilities in the face of growing tensions with China and as it deepens defence ties with the United States and other Western nations.

The nearly 350km Purvanchal Expressway inaugurated by Mr Modi also forms part of a multi-billion-dollar push to improve India's underdeveloped road network.

Mr Modi's government says it has upgraded or developed more than 50,000km of highways across the country since it came to power in 2014. It plans to construct another 11,000km in 2021.

The six-lane Purvanchal Expressway connects regional capital Lucknow with largely underdeveloped eastern regions of Uttar Pradesh, which holds key elections in early 2022.

The authorities said the road, which cost nearly US$3 billion (S$4 billion), will slash travel time from six hours to 3½ hours from Lucknow to the state's easternmost district of Ghazipur.

The state, which is run by Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist party, says the road network will boost economic development in the region and promote tourism in cities such as Ayodhya - a major Hindu holy city.

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