The newly-inaugurated Kashi Vishwanath Corridor in Varanasi is being largely hailed as a symbol of the resurrection of India’s spiritual consciousness but a section of people there claims that the mega project is being showcased so that the ruling party gets a “political edge” in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday dedicated to the people the first phase of the ambitious project — Shri Kashi Vishwanath Dham — which has been constructed at a cost of around Rs 339 crore. The project connects the temple premises to the Ganga river, besides providing several facilities to devotees.
During the inauguration ceremony, Modi had termed Kashi as “avinashi (indestructible)” and asserted that a “new history” was being created and “we are fortunate to have witnessed it”.
Varanasi has been the parliamentary constituency of Modi since 2014 and during the first day of his two-day visit to the temple town, he first paid obeisance at the Kal Bhairav Mandir, fondly called “Kashi ke Kotwal”, and after formally opening the corridor in the presence of a large number of saints and seers, took part in a “cruise baithak” with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and several other chief ministers of BJP-ruled states.
During his two-day visit, he took part in a number of programmes with public outreach. Addressing the 98th-anniversary celebrations of Sadguru Sadafaldeo Vihangam Yog Sansthan at the Swarved Mahamandir in Varanasi, he asserted that (by) “embracing the old and adopting the new, Benares is giving a new direction to the country”.
Many poll pundits, a major opposition party in Uttar Pradesh and a section of people in Varanasi, however, conjectured that there is a “subtle political messaging” in these events, given that the state assembly polls are due early next year.
While the new corridor project has been hailed by saints and seers, and a large number of local residents and visitors from other states, who flocked the shrine on the eve of its opening and termed the mega project a work of “unprecedented scale” that has “decongested the constricted shrine”, many others are not enthused about it.
Lalji Yadav, 72, who resides in a lane leading to the Manikarnika Ghat, was not very impressed with the opening ceremony and alleged that it was “all timed to leverage benefit in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls”.
“The common man is facing the burden of inflation and the impact of the (COVID-19) pandemic, but this spectacle, hosted in our Kashi, is not what it seems. The Hindutva politics of this party is known and the mega project is being showcased to get the votes of Hindus, the majority community here,” he said.
Prabhat Singh, another resident of the holy city, claimed that his property was among the hundreds of buildings demolished to make way for the corridor, and also dubbed the “Kashi mega event” a “ploy by the ruling BJP to get a political edge in the 2022 polls”.
The inauguration of the grand project, which has expanded the Kashi Vishwanath temple area from 3,000 sq. ft to about five lakh sq. ft and which can now accommodate 50,000-75,000 devotees, has certainly sent out political ripples and triggered debates ahead of the polls to the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly.
Religion is a sensitive issue in Uttar Pradesh, especially when it comes to elections, and though the restive issue of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was resolved in a historic Supreme Court verdict in November 2019, Kashi and Mathura are still very sensitive zones, where a huge number of security personnel guard the two shrines round the clock.
The mega corridor event had drawn a sharp reaction from Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav on Monday, as he remarked jeeringly that people stay in Benaras “when the end nears”, sparking condemnation from the BJP, which said his taunts were “cruel” and equated the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Yadav’s remarks are expected to raise the political heat in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the assembly polls.
Modi, in his address during its foundation stone-laying ceremony on March 8, 2019, had also observed that it was difficult to take people into confidence to give up their properties and ensure that the project did not take on a political colour.