Kashi is a remarkable development model that is being built on the pillars of regional and spiritual tourism with a focus on trade.
It came as no surprise when, in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (then chief minister of Gujarat) decided to contest from Banaras, a city which happens to be one of the oldest existing human settlements in India.
The most populous state in the country — Uttar Pradesh — also happens to be the state that’s politically most significant. Many of India’s prime ministers have contested from Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh which is why it is said that the road to Delhi goes through UP.
In 2014, Banaras had its own challenges such as narrow roads, high population density, and the city, despite being a cultural epicentre, was far from being clean. It would have been safe to assume that Banaras could not be developed without compromising its ‘old-charm’ and rich cultural legacy.
Five years later, it would be wise to accept that such an assumption was indeed flawed. If 2014 was about the Gujarat model, then 2019 could be well about the ‘Kashi’ model of development which leverages the rich cultural heritage of the region to meet the aspirations of its population.
The city, which used to be choked and was in dire need of upgradation of infrastructure has got a massive face-lift under the Modi government. With projects worth over Rs 30,000 crore being planned in the city, the intent of the Prime Minister is clear — to make Kashi the gateway to India. The focus has not just been on upgradation of roads and flyovers, the government has set up a multi-modal terminal and the trade facilitation centre.
Be it the sewage treatment plants or the ‘heritage’ lights that have been installed in Kashi, there has been a concentrated push towards modernising the city without compromising on its cultural heritage. The city also has a plan for smooth traffic management through its command and control center and it is witnessing an unprecedented increase in the coverage of underground cabling.
It must be mentioned that five years ago, the ghats of Kashi were known to be badly managed, but, PM Modi decided to take charge and initiate a cleanliness drive from the Assi Ghat. Through many such concentrated efforts, Kashi at the 32nd position was one of the only cities from UP to feature in the top 100 clean cities of India.
Besides the upgradation of the city’s infrastructure, the government has given a major push towards putting Kashi back on the global map by inviting global heads of states and hosting bilateral discussions. For the first time, the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, performed the Ganga aarti together at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. A convention centre in Kashi, currently under construction, has been gifted by the Japanese Premier — a gesture that shows the deep love of Japan for Kashi.
Abe is not the only head of the state who visited Kashi as Prime Minister Modi also hosted French President Emmanuel Macron in Kashi. Priests numbering 121 welcomed both the leaders in Kashi as they took a boat ride on the holy river Ganga, and enjoyed Kashi’s famous Ramlila. Clearly, they both had the first-hand experience of the very best of what Kashi has to offer.
‘Kashi’ is a development model that is built on the pillars of regional and spiritual tourism combined with a focus on trade.
For far too long, most Indian prime ministers and politicians were dismissive of India’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage. PM Modi has changed that and has made this legacy the cornerstone of his model of development of his constituency. Through policies like PRASAD, the Indian government is also promoting domestic spiritual tourism across the country. With the launch of the Vande Bharat Express (an indigenous train built by Indian engineers), we should expect the influx of domestic tourists into Varanasi to increase significantly.
The most important aspect is that all of this has been achieved in just five years and this makes the development of Varanasi a good example for future leaders and members of Parliament. In a country where most prime ministers failed to discharge their duties towards their constituencies as MPs, Modi has set the bar very high. In fact, the development of Varanasi over the last four years puts to shame the development of Raebareli and Amethi which were held by leaders from a family for decades.
It is evident that Kashi has it all — a rich cultural heritage, strong tradition of intellectual pursuit, historical and religious significance across different traditions, an aspiring population and a member of Parliament who through a combination of all these is rebuilding the global brand called Kashi.