Rajat Sharma

How Modi transformed Varanasi

akbI had the opportunity to travel to Varanasi several times in the past. I offered prayers at Kashi Vishwanath shrine. I have seen the filth on the roads and lanes leading to the temple. On each of my visits, I used to feel sad looking at the squalor all around the holiest shrine of India. To perform prayers in the temple, one had to walk through dingy lanes crowded with shops on both sides, with gutters choked with filth and garbage and electric cables hanging overhead in a jumble.

The residents of Varanasi, most of them ardent followers of Lord Shiva, had taken these bleak scenes as part of their fate, for several centuries. They used to say that most of these small shops and homes belonged to the families of priests, and it was next to impossible to demolish all of them. None of the politicians dared to take on the temple priests on the issue of clearing up the roads. It was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who brought about this miraculous transformation.

The work of demolition went on smoothly, with not a single civil case pending in courts and the entire matter was resolved to the satisfaction of the shop and house owners. The holiest city of Hinduism, Kashi, has regained its lost glory. Those living in Varanasi, steeped in spiritualism, philanthropy and devotion, had taken the narrow lanes, crowds and perennial traffic jams as part of their fate. They had learnt, over the decades, the exact timings about when to step out of their houses and go to their destinations, without facing crowds and traffic jams.

Over the years, I had met several intellectuals, lawyers, professors, doctors and teachers living in Benares, and almost all of them who loved Kashi, were resigned to their fate. It was Modi, as their MP, who transformed their disappointment into hope. He changed the face of Kashi.

The same friends, who spoke about the filth and squalor of Kashi, now invited me to come and see how their beloved city has changed. They told me, unless you come and see with your own eyes, you will never believe the transformation that has taken place. All of them were unanimous in saying that it was only Modi who could have brought about this miracle.

The task was not easy. The eyes of these friends are now lit with joy and a sense of pride about their city has now crept in their conversations. Naturally, the expectations of the people of Kashi have now risen, and during his two-day sojourn, Modi assured them that he would strike to fulfil them too. The people of Kashi are now happy, satisfied.

The transformation was done in record time. The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project was executed at breakneck speed. Roads were widened, all electric cables hanging overhead were removed by setting up underground cable network, the Ganga river bank ‘ghats’ are now clean, the quality of Ganga water have improved and is drinkable, last, but not the least, every pilgrim, after taking bath in Ganga, can go straight to the Kashi Vishwanath shrine to offer water on the holy ‘lingam’, unimpeded. The distance between Baba Bholenath and his millions of pilgrims is now short. The people of Kashi have regained their self-confidence.

To know how Kashi has changed, you only need to step out of the train at Benares station (renamed: the earlier name was Manduadih). The old station, built during the British rule, with decrepit offices, now looks new, equipped with latest hi-tech facilities, with clean platforms, escalators, overbridges and rest rooms. At midnight, Modi went to this railway station with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, and himself inspected the new station that has been built. Previously, the Manduadih station had only three platforms. There are now eight platforms. At Platform 8 is a big passengers’ lounge, where 168 travellers can sit at a time. Rs 100 crore was spent by Railways on passenger amenities alone.

Modi never blindly trusts the action taken reports sent by his officers. At midnight, he also visited Godowlia Chowk in Varanasi, the city’s nerve centre. He walked the main road along with Yogi Adityanath, and got feedback from local residents about the changes that have taken place. This Godowlia Chowk was redeveloped as part of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project. Roads have been widened, LED lights installed and multi-level parking has been built. Previously, the roads used to be congested, with traffic jams and no space left for pedestrians on the sidewalk. The residents of this area told the PM the changes that have now taken place.

India TV reporters spoke to pilgrims who had lined up outside Kashi Vishwanath temple at the newly built corridor on Tuesday. They were effusive in their praises.

The 20,000 sq. ft temple premises have now been enlarged to 5 lakh sq. feet. In the new corridor, 23 new buildings have come up and 27 temples have been refurbished. The corridor has been divided into three parts, with four large gates, and the corridor has been adorned with 22 huge marble plates, depicting the history of Kashi. Mandir Chowk, Mumukshu Bhawan, 3 passenger facilitation centres, 4 shopping complexes, city museum, Varanasi gallery and a multi-purpose hall are part of this project. Earlier, devotees in thousands used to jostle to enter the shrine. On Tuesday, the devotees stood in queues in a regulated manner.

All the ghats of Varanasi now look clean, free of filth, with all encroachments removed. Effluent treatment plants are working to ensure that the Ganga river at the banks remains clean.

Out of Rs 4,500 crore spent on transforming Kashi, Rs 900 crore was spent on the Kashi Vishwanath corridor, Rs 450 crore was spent on underground electric cabling, Rs 100 crore on refurbishing the Ganga ghats, and remaining money on widening of roads, multi-level parking, 1.25 lakh LED lights, and beautification of Godowlia Chowk.

After making the holiest city clean, Modi expects a huge increase in tourism and hospitality sector in Varanasi. He has also plans to create a medical hub in this city. Already, the modernized Varanasi airport and the highways and roads connected to the city are in place.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Modi has done what was till now considered impossible. The transformation of Kashi has been magical, to say the least.

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