On a visit to Varanasi on the occasion of ‘Good Governance Day’ in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi without any hesitation picked up a broom and participated in a cleanliness drive at Jagannath Gali near Assi Ghat. Further, speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister described the land of Kashi as one which gave us “Shiksha Ki Sanskriti” (a culture of education). And indeed, within barely seven years, Varanasi has transformed into a thriving medical hub of Purvanchal region, and is known as the unique seat of holistic learning with a humanist vision.
Varanasi is on the bucket list of virtually every international tourist who comes to India. In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected as the MP of Varanasi, he had remarked, “There’s a lot of work that god has put me on this earth for. A lot of it is dirty work, but I’m up to the task.”
Since then, from world-class infrastructure to express trains, from underground cabling to waste treatment plants, from a cultural convention centre to modern traffic control, from a multimodal terminal to a container depot for perishables, Varanasi has witnessed a transformative revolution in the last seven years, with Kashi Vishwanath Dham showcasing Kashi’s vibrancy.
PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ring Road and Phase-1 was completed in November 2018 in record time, making traffic movement across the city much easier and helping decongest roads. Varanasi has a very busy airport, naturally due to the movement of pilgrims and tourists in and out of the city. The over 17 kilometre-long airport road developed under the aegis of PM Modi is called the Gateway of Varanasi today. The development of the first multimodal terminal on an inland waterway in Varanasi was a matter of pride for the city, with the Prime Minister receiving the first container vessel on the river Ganga in 2018.
PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation of two dedicated cancer hospitals in Varanasi a few years back. Also, Institute of Medical Sciences-BHU was accorded AIIMS-like status, which will further improve health facilities in the hospital. Kashi is called the city of Mahadev or Lord Shiva and the development of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is a boon to lakhs of devotees of Shiva, who are making use of the direct link, developed between the temple and the Ganga Ghat. Kashi, a thriving and busy city, generates a lot of waste and sewage. PM Narendra Modi inaugurated a large sewage infrastructure project. A 140 million litre per day (MLD) sewage treatment plant (STP) at Dinapur, set up in 2018, has helped the city get rid of the large waste generated and would further curb river pollution.
The last few years have been momentous in the history of Kashi. Not only has the city given India one of its most popular and powerful Prime Ministers ever, but it has also witnessed rapid development that only an MP of Modi’s stature can usher in. PM Modi laid the foundation stone of trade facilitation centre and crafts museum in 2017 for the benefit of many weavers, craftsmen and artisans of Varanasi and nearby areas. He had once remarked that India cannot become a Vishwa Guru without the development of Kashi. Development of Kashi is in turn incomplete without a betterment of the weavers’ lives.
Handicrafts of Kashi are spread in the form of cottage industries—Banarasi silk saree, textiles and carpet industries being some of the prominent ones. Lakhs of handloom weavers are directly or indirectly related to these industries. Measures taken for the betterment of weavers and artisans have gone a long way in enhancing their incomes. For the retention of next generation of weavers, a carpet engineering programme is being run in Indian Institute of Carpet Technology, Bhadohi. Seventy five per cent of the fee for students belonging to poor families of weavers is being taken care of by the Modi government.
There is a provision for margin money of Rs 10,000 under the MUDRA scheme for weavers. Mega carpet clusters in Mirzapur and Bhadohi are being given modern looms. India currently occupies 35 per cent share of the world’s carpet market. PM Modi has set a target to increase this to 50 per cent.
Across India, after Prime Minister Modi took up the cause of promoting Khadi, sales of Khadi have been on an upswing. In Varanasi too, Khadi institutions and workers are being encouraged, with credit-linked capital subsidy (CLCS). Under Kaushal Vikas Yojana, thousands of youth are being skilled and empowered. The Coir Board also organises regular international vyapar melas. The commencement of expansion of Diesel Locomotive Works also started, thanks to the Prime Minister.
Varanasi is holy. Varanasi is mystical. Varanasi is enigmatic. Varanasi represents the timeless values of Hindu dharma. In a first, a Member of Parliament from Varanasi is the Prime Minister of India. If we look at the political history of India, a PM’s constituency is in the spotlight only for a brief period of time. In some cases, like in the case of “compulsive liar” Rahul Gandhi, desperate to be the PM, his so-called high profile visits to Amethi used to happen only on the eve of elections, once every five years. No wonder the electorate of Amethi sent him packing as an MP in 2019.
But PM Modi’s constituency has been the centre of attention for all the right reasons, with the Prime Minister visiting Varanasi almost over two dozen times in the last few years, despite his jam-packed schedule. PM Modi’s affection for the mystical city of Kashi is well known. To the people of Kashi, he said: “Kashi owns me, I am imprisoned by its love”. In his many visits, apart from his interactive sessions with the people of Varanasi, PM Modi is seen inaugurating a hospital, or flagging off an express train, laying the foundation stone for a ring road or making Kashi the first multimodal hub on an inland water way.
Be it unveiling the plaque of the Inter-University Centre, launching the Campus Connect wi-fi of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), or the Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission for teachers and the National Livelihood Mission for women, Narendra Modi has done path-breaking work, both as the PM and as the MP from Kashi. Turning ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ into a ‘Jan Andolan’ has been a hugely rewarding journey for Narendra Modi.
Not only is Kashi witnessing development on an unprecedented scale but people of this sacred city are also experiencing first-hand what it is like to have a karmayogi PM as their MP. The ‘Jan Sampark’ office of PM Modi in Kashi is dedicated to the service of common people in the city and did exemplary work when floods hit the city in 2019.
After selecting Jayapur, a tiny village in Varanasi, 7 kms from the Rajatalab railway station, for the ‘Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it is not MPs who are taking guardianship of the village under this Yojana, but villagers who were taking MPs under their wings through this scheme. “Can we decide that we will not allow Jayapur to become dirty; can we ensure children wash hands before eating,” the Prime Minister asked the large gathering at Jayapur, asserting that these things did not require government intervention. He said such positive social energy can help create a model village. Days after he met and addressed people of Jayapur, they reciprocated, by turning the birth of a girl child into a festive occasion and planting trees.
Varanasi is the only place from where the revered Ganga is Uttar Vahini (flows North). The powerful stream of the river Ganga changes directions from here. Thus, the biggest sanitation drive also started from Varanasi.
Speaking of COVID-19, the moment it became clear that the second wave had hit India, the Prime Minister sent his emissary and long-time aide A.K. Sharma to Varanasi with instructions to take proactive measures and make sure that damage was controlled. Sharma landed in Varanasi on April 13, 2021 and immediately set in motion a 24×7 Command and Control room. With 20 dedicated phone lines and round-the-clock manpower, the ‘Kashi COVID Response Centre’ became the hub of coordination between various arms of administration as well as the interface with the people for a seamless management of the situation.
Two oxygen plants, hundreds of oxygen cylinders and concentrators were ordered and a DRDO COVID hospital was also set up to tide over the crisis. The positivity rate of the district came down from over 30 per cent to less than 13 per cent in a matter of days. The administration ramped up RT-PCR testing capacity of Kashi city from 5,000 to 12,000 per day, while making sure that the results were made available within 24 hours. Sharma arranged for two automatic RNA extractor machines from ASSOCHAM that made testing quicker. Of the four oxygen plants in Varanasi supplying 12,000 LPM oxygen, one each was imported from the United States and Israel, while two others were procured from Maharashtra and Gujarat each. Varanasi also had the highest supply of Remdesivir injections—about 700 vials a day. During the second wave in April and May 2021, the vaccination rate in Kashi at over 9,000 per day was also one of the highest for any city in Uttar Pradesh.
Another far-sighted step taken on the instructions of PM Modi was to make sure the rural areas were protected. The administration distributed 70,000 medical kits to contain the pandemic in the rural hinterland of Varanasi and the healthcare staff at primary and secondary dispensaries were trained on war footing on use of oxymeters and other testing paraphernalia. The result was heartening with distress calls from rural areas coming down from a peak of 800 per day to about 100 at the Command and Control Centre, within days.
Taking forward the progressive journey of ‘Vikaswaad’ in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 15, 2021 inaugurated and laid foundation stones of multiple development projects worth more than Rs 1,500 crore at the IIT-BHU grounds. He also inaugurated the International Cooperation and Convention Centre, ‘Rudrakash’, which has been constructed with Japanese assistance. Various public projects and works, including a 100-bed maternal and child health (MCH) wing in BHU, multi-level parking at Godaulia, Ro-Ro vessels for tourism development on river Ganga and a three-lane flyover bridge on the Varanasi-Ghazipur highway, were the defining projects flagged off by the PM. Central Institute of Petrochemical Engineering and Technology (CIPET), 143 rural projects under Jal Jeevan Mission and a mango and vegetable integrated packhouse in Karkhiyaon are projects worth around Rs 839 crore.
Amid worries of a possible third wave of COVID-19, which may impact children more, the inauguration of the MCH unit at the BHU hospital in Varanasi shows that health continues to be a top-of-the-mind agenda for the Modi government. Considered the AIIMS of Purvanchal (East UP), adjoining Bihar and even Nepal, the Sir Sunderlal Hospital in BHU campus that got the MCH wing has seen the number of beds rise from 1,500 to 2,700 in just seven years, an 80 per cent increase. “When the world is in crisis, we must pledge—a pledge which is bigger than the crisis itself. We must strive to make the 21st century India’s century. And the path to do that is self-reliance”—this powerful quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi sums up the ethos of the ‘Varanasi Model’ in ways more than one. Indeed, the Varanasi model blends the puritanical with the modern and spirituality with fast-paced progress, reflective of an aspirational India in the true sense of the term.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.