From Varanasi to Kashmiri pandits: Budget 2014 wears a saffron hue
Economics aside, budget 2014 had one other key element, i.e. cultural nationalism.
Arun Jaitley’s budget speech was the longest, at least in recent memory. But then it was the first major policy statement of Modi government and the finance minister had to showcase its economic vision address expectations of various electoral constituencies which voted for the new regime.
Economics aside, the budget had one other key element, i.e. cultural nationalism.
Core Sangh Parivar ideology was also reflected in various schemes like National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD), National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), “Namami Gange” and such other schemes. Railway minister had earlier announced a special train featuring life and work of Swami Vivekananda to “inculcate good moral values and propagate his teachings”.
The budget proposes to develop Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi Buddhist circuit with world class tourist amenities to attract tourists from all over the world.
Ganga is integral part of life in Varanasi. Ganga cleaning has been an emotive issue for the people and when Modi decided to contenst elections from Varanasi, he famously said “I have neither beeen sent, nor have I come on my own but I have been called by Ganga” and promised to change the life around Ganges. In the budget, the project has put on “mission” mode. The finance minister proposed to set up Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange” and set aside a sum of Rs 2,037 crores for this purpose.
Ganga ghats in this holy city are the biggest centre of tourist and pilgrim attention will get the special attention of Union government. The 80 ghats of Varanasi form part of 'Development of ghats and beautification of Riverfront’ project. In his speech Jaitley said “our riverfronts and ghats are not only places of rich historical heritage but many of these are also sacred. To start this process in the country, I propose to set aside a sum of Rs 100 crore for ghat development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi.”
Another project on the river Ganga called ‘Jal Marg Vikas’ (National Waterways-I) will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1620 kms.
Modi has also made sure that his political constituencies are well taken care of. The budget presentation, both general and rail, favoured Varanasi (and the greater poorvanchal) and Gujarat even as Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency Raebareli went completely off the radar. From Bullet trains to high speed train corridors to mega textile hub, to Rs 200 crore grant for Statue of Unity statue, Gujarat loomed large in the rail and general budget. Jammu and Kashmir and North-East found special mention in the budget on some occasions. Kashmiri Pandits too were specifically named as beneficiaries of a Rs 500 crore rehabilitation package.
The railway budget had many references of Varanasi: Varanasi is to be connected via rail to other major pilgrim centres, Rameshwaram, Chennai, Ayodhya, Varanasi and Haridwar. A new express train will run daily from Delhi to Varanasi, and many others either been extended to Varanasi, or Varanasi had been put on their route. It will now have direct connectivity with Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
In the union budget, apart from the Ganga-related outlays, a number of the projects have gone to Varanasi and its close vicinity: Trade Facilitation Centre and a Crafts Museum with an outlay of Rs 50 crore to develop and promote handloom products and carry forward the rich tradition of handlooms of Varanasi. Modi had promised revival of famed Banarasi sari trade through innovative technological and financial support. Varanasi will also be part of the six textile mega-clusters, with the others to be located in Bareily, Lucknow, Surat, Kuttch, Bhagalpur, Mysore and one in Tamil Nadu.
Also telling is the steady erasure of the Nehru-Gandhi name. The UPA practice of naming projects in name of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi was replaced by the deployment of new BJP-favoured icons like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deen Dayal Upadhaya, Sardar Ballabhbhai Patel, Madan Mohan Malviya and Jayprakash Narayan.
Incidentally, around the time the family's name was being wiped off, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi moved up to sit by the side of his mother, Sonia, in the front row. The symbolism could not have been lost on either.
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