The great Varanasi hoax: 10 months later, Modi's constituency remains a big, smelly mess
Varanasi [also known as Banaras], home to 1.5 million people and the PM’s launchpad, literally stinks despite all his solemn pre-poll pledges and guarantees. Barring the cleanliness campaign at ghats along the banks of the Ganges, particularly Assi Ghat where Modi brandished a spade prompting some banks and NGOs to chip in, and the inauguration of a trade facilitation centre for weavers, Modi has done nothing so far to honour his commitment.
By SNM Abdi
It's exactly ten months since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. But Varanasi — his Lok Sabha constituency – which he had promised to transform into a world class city on a war footing, is as dirty, messy and chaotic as it was when it reposed its faith in Modi and elected him with a thumping majority to represent it in Parliament and take up the reins of government.
Varanasi [also known as Banaras], home to 1.5 million people and the PM’s launchpad, literally stinks despite all his solemn pre-poll pledges and guarantees. Barring the cleanliness campaign at ghats along the banks of the Ganges, particularly Assi Ghat where Modi brandished a spade prompting some banks and NGOs to chip in, and the inauguration of a trade facilitation centre for weavers, Modi has done nothing so far to honour his commitment, compelling many to think that were taken for a ride.
Modi and his boys promised Banarasi babus and bibis the moon. Modi vowed to transform Varanasi into another Kyoto – the Japanese model heritage city housing 2000 holy shrines and temples. He also spoke of redeveloping his spring-board "like London after World War II or Bhuj after the 2001 earthquake".
Local BJP leaders like Vaibhav Kapoor, probably realising that Modi had gone too far invoking Kyoto and London, declared that Varanasi would be reborn as Noida or Gurgaon!
The goodies Modi brazenly promised Varanasi include a metro, monorail, six-lane highways, flyovers, ring roads, satellite towns, round-the-clock water, electricity and broadband, solid waste management systems, a Bhojpuri film city, an international spiritualism-cum-philosophy centre, battery operated cars, a global e-commerce-driven mart for handloom and handicraft, solar lighting in public places and, of course, luxury cruises on a clean and rejuvenated Ganges.
Team Modi heavyweights like Varanasi's BJP mayor Ram Gopal Mohale and Modi's Varanasi Office in-charge Shiv Sharan Pathak, have repeatedly said on record that by virtue of electing the PM, Varanasi automatically tops the list of the nation's 100 smart cities, ensuring a golden future for an ancient city Mark Twain once described as "older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together"
In a sense, Modi is the best thing that could have happened to Varanasi — a byword for urban decay and squalor groaning under the weight of gods and mortals. The three most conspicuous things about the PM’s constituency are cows, filth and foreigners, not to speak of its paan-stained walls and pavements.
Locals love paan — a mixture of killer tobacco, assorted nuts and spices wrapped in a green betel leaf which is chewed before the dark red cocktail is spat on the streets; the concoction is considered a mouth cleanser-cum-breath freshener-cum-aphrodasiac even by many educated Banarasis.
Two English expressions — nightmare and hellhole — sum up Varanasi where as many as 2400 people live per square km compared to 1800 and 1400 in Lucknow and Kanpur respectively. As living conditions worsened over decades, municipal planners and civic authorities simply gave up leaving the city to whatever fate had ordained — until Modi suddenly announced that he would rescue Varanasi from doom if he was elected MP.
Ten months on, disillusionment with Modi is evident. "Kuch toh shuru hona chahiye [some work must at least begin]," an exasperated Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, professor of Electronics at Banaras Hindu University and high priest of the Sankat Mochan Temple, told Outlook, echoing the dismay of those who fear Modi has forsaken his constituency.
On paper at least, the Urban Development Ministry has earmarked Rs 11,800 crores for Varanasi’s makeover with Modi’s consent. According to an IANS report dated 3 November, 2014 quoting ministry officials, of the Rs 11,800 crores, the Centre will contribute Rs 2082 crores, the Uttar Pradesh government Rs 1488 crores and the remaining Rs 8230 crore will be invested by private and foreign players.
But a report entitled “Varanasi's development stuck in red-tapism” published in DNA dated 20 February, 2015 revealed that "after four meetings in nine months with the Uttar Pradesh government, the Urban Development ministry has not managed to move an inch in redeveloping Varanasi."
“Redevelopment plan of Varanasi has been the priority of the ministry. But the project seems to have been stuck in red-tapism and lack of political will, by the state government to implement it.”
“Sources in the Urban Development ministry say that the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh and the municipal commissioner of Varanasi do not interact with the ministry on the Varanasi issue. ‘We have called four meetings. In all these meetings they sent a junior level officer, who has no decision making power’, said an officer of the ministry. As a result no consensus has been reached between the Centre and state on the Varanasi development plan.”
There is no reason on earth why UP’s Samajwadi Party government should oblige Modi by facilitating Varanasi’s development for which the PM would corner all the credit. The state government, in any case, can’t give Varanasi priority over Lucknow, Kanpur or Agra. So, as things stand, Varanasi’s rebirth would have to wait until BJP wrests UP from SP in 2017. But who knows what the outcome of the elections will be?
One option before Modi s is to set the ball rolling to make Varanasi a Union Territory directly administered by New Delhi. But that’s a tall order. And even if Varanasi does become a UT, Modi’s innings as PM may be over by then. Varanasi, it appears, must turn to Lord Shiva for salvation instead of banking on any human being, however powerful he may seem to be.
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