No PM Modi makeover yet: A year later, Varanasi awaits its star MP to deliver
Pessimists badly outnumber optimists in any stock taking here as Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes a year as its five-star MP who promised a makeover but hasn't delivered so far.
Varanasi: Pessimists badly outnumber optimists in any stock taking here as Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes a year as its five-star MP who promised a makeover but hasn't delivered so far.
Amitabha Bhattacharya, bureau chief of Northern India Patrika and the doyen of journalists in the PM's constituency, has a sharp mind and a sharper tongue.
"The bubbly optimism of Modi's men reminds me of a character in Syed Mustafa Siraj's writing who wets his bed because he saw a tiger in his dream - like fear, expectation can be illusory", Bhattacharya told Firstpost with the outspoken candour of a 70-year-old chronicler.
But Laxman Acharya, who played a key role in Modi's victory and is now president of BJP's Kashi Zone covering 14 Lok Sabha seats, is sure that a golden future is in store for Modi's constituency, which he repeatedly refers to as Kashi instead of Varanasi or Banaras.
"First and foremost, the number of visitors flocking to Kashi has increased phenomenally", Acharya, a RSS pracharak who taught at Saraswati Shishu Mandir earning the title, told Firstpost.
"The Modi tag has turned Kashi into a magnet and the influx of tourists is generating mega bucks. Kashi had lost its importance and significance. But Modi has revived Kashi's position as the rashtraguru (Leader of the Nation). And from this springboard, he will make India the Vishwaguru (Leader of the World)," he said.
Acharya, who recently became a Member of Legislative Council or the upper house of the Uttar Pradesh assembly, can be forgiven for going over the top. Tourist footfall has actually increased by 10-15 percent with Gujaratis making a beeline for Varanasi, admit tour operators.
"Thanks to tourist dollars, Kashi is now destined to witness record growth. Before long, Varanasi will realise that it has won a lottery by electing Modi as its representative," he said.
However, objectively speaking, Modi's first year report card is quite unimpressive. Beyond the cleanliness drive at two of the city's 84 ghats, introduction of funeral vehicles, a boat for ferrying the dead to the ghats for cremation, and some improvement in power supply, Varanasi is just as chaotic, dirty and smelly as before.
Vidhwambhar Nath Mishra, electronics professor at the Banaras Hindu University and hereditary head priest of Sankat Mochan temple, remarked that Modi has exhausted one-fifth of his term as MP but has virtually nothing to show for it.
"For eight years Varanasi has been dug up like nobody's business on the pretext of modernising and beautifying it. But the pace of rebuilding hasn't accelerated after Modi was elected MP. Eight years of harassment is a long time in citizens' life. Modi must ensure that their suffering comes to an end," Mishra said.
Modi hasn't visited Varanasi in 2015 so far. Defending his absence, Shiv Sharan Pathak, who heads the team manning Modi's constituency office, told Firstpost that a system is in place to ensure that Modi fulfils his obligations as MP without being physically present.
Ironically, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal, who lost to Modi, had vowed to serve Varanasi irrespective of his victory or defeat in the election. However, he has been absconding since his defeat. His supporters expected him to visit Varanasi after becoming the chief minister if Delhi, but he didn't.
The Muslim community, that constitutes 17 percent of the Varanasi electorate, still remain cuts off from Modi. For a whole year there have been no efforts to win them over. But just before the anniversary, Najma Heptullah and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi - the Muslim ministers in Modi's government - paid a flying visit to assure Muslim weavers that a trade facilitation centre and crafts museum promised by the Prime Minister would see the light of day.
The family of Varanasi's most famous Muslim, Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan who died in 2006, don't regret turning down the BJP's request for one of the shehnai maestro's sons to propose Modi's name to contest as an MP.
"We asked to be excused when BJP mayor Ram Gopal Mohale approached us as Khan Sahab was never into politics," Afaque Haidar, Bismillah Khan's grandson told Firstpost.
"Or let's say that as an artiste he was above party politics. And that's why we deliberately refrained from becoming one of Modi's proposers, although we welcomed him to our city with full respect and courtesy befitting his stature," he said.
Haidar said that regardless of his family's decision not to back Modi's candidature, the Prime Minister should do everything within his powers for Varanasi's Muslims "because he is no longer the chief minister of Gujarat but our elected MP and the country's prime minister."
Modi's promise to turn Varanasi into a Kyoto - the Japanese temple town that has become a global template for marrying heritage with ultra-modern amenities - elicited snide remarks from an unlikely quarter even as the Varanasi BJP finalised plans to celebrate Modi's completion of one year as MP.
Murli Manohar Joshi, the ex-Varanasi MP who had to make way for Modi, asked a BHU audience during a seminar on "integrated humanism, cultural nationalism" on May 5 whether they wanted "a Kyoto standing on a pile of garbage?"
He added that ring roads, highways and metro (which Modi has promised) are fine, "but what about basic transportation infrastructure?"
"The day is not far off when Modi will import bottles of air from Kyoto and uncork them in Varanasi - that's how he is going to live up to his promise of transforming Varanasi into Kyoto," Bhattacharya, bureau chief of Northern India Patrika, said sarcastically.
Off the record, even BJP members admit that Modi's inability to deliver on his pledges might cost the party dearly in the UP assembly elections.
Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro at ₹499 for the first year. Use code PRO499. Limited period offer. *T&C apply
Bengal polls 2021: Narendra Modi to address rally at Kolkata's Brigade Ground today; Mithun Chakraborty to attend event
Modi's rally is said to be culmination of the 'Parivartan Yatra' launched by the saffron party in the poll-bound Bengal in February this year
West Bengal Assembly election 2021: 'Poribortan in Delhi, not Bengal', Mamata takes aim at PM Modi in Siliguri rally
While the saffron party is bolstered by the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the stream of top TMC leaders seeking to join it, the TMC has tried to show Mamata as "Bengal's own daughter" and the BJP as "outsiders"
West Bengal polls 2021: Top guns alone won't win BJP state; Mamata's populism a hard barrier to break
Mamata's TMC has pitched this election as a contest between the people of Bengal and ‘outsiders’. It doesn’t help counter that strategy by relying on national leaders to fight the party’s battles.