‘Death, demolition and destruction are necessary for development’ is the message to the people of Varanasi.
Objections are being brushed aside as against Modi and development
The holy city is well on its way to resemble Kyoto in Japan. Or that is what was promised in 2014 when Narendra Modi won the election to the Lok Sabha from here. The city since then has drawn both Indian and international leaders in droves. The Prime Minister’s constituency has received extraordinary attention from planners and bureaucrats and both public and private investment have poured in, making the old, holy city one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
The flip side is that Varanasi is today also one of the most polluted cities in the world. In the list of the world’s most polluted cities released by the World Health organisation in May, as many as 14 Indian cities were included. While Kanpur figured as the most polluted, Faridabad and Varanasi ranked second and third were close behind.
While the ranking was all about ambient air quality, it’s not as if the water quality in Varanasi is any better. In 2014 Narendra Modi declared emotionally that he had been called by the holy river to the holy city. Four years later both their holinesses are having a rough time.
Lack of oxygen in the river recently led to schools of dead fish rise to the surface of the water. The water level in the river has receded to an all-time low with sand dunes becoming visible as early as March itself. While the Government has been planning to promote inland shipping in the river, even country boats this year are finding it difficult to navigate in the river.
Observers also point out that there is nothing new or novel about the ‘Ganga Pathway’ project either. The project was mooted 15 years ago but is now being implemented as part of the PM’s vision. Since the project involves the demolition of scores of ancient temples, and houses along with them, the move is being contested. The demolition, say concerned citizens, is an attack on Varanasi’s heritage. The state government and the administrators have predictably brushed aside objections and dubbed critics as busybodies opposed to, well, development.
The scheme envisages demolition of houses and temples to widen the approach to the holy river. But is demolition necessary for development, asks Rajnath Tiwary, president of the committee to protect heritage (Dharohar Bachao Samiti). Krishna Kumar Sharma, an old RSS hand, is shocked over a BJP government bent upon displacing people like him.
“We could never imagine that a political party which swears by religion and ancient culture will take the initiative to demolish ancient temples even as the administration is unable to produce a blueprint.” Sharma is convinced that the Government is hiding something from the people about its plans.
The agitation against Varanasi’s ‘development’ received a fillip in May when Swami Avimukteshwaranand, a disciple of Shankaracharya Swarupanand Saraswati, undertook a barefoot door-to-door campaign to save the ancient city from ‘development’.