Five years ago, when the country was gearing up for the Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi had announced his candidature from Varanasi. And as part of its manifesto, the BJP had said that it sought to give the ancient city a makeover. In that way, the Kashi corridor project came to be -- a mega attempt to decongest the stretch between the ghats and the temple in the city.
But at that time everyone wondered, would Modi be able to make it happen? Because this was a project that would render hundreds of people, including many who voted for him, homeless, as there were many houses and shops standing in the area marked for redevelopment, for over a hundred years now. They would all have to make way.
Now, as Modi approached the end of his term, we thought, what’s happened to Modi’s dream project? Then we saw him visit Varanasi just a few weeks ago to lay the foundation stone and get the ball rolling on the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Vistarikaran-Saundaryakaran Yojana.
But had they been able to convince the affected people to move? Was Kashi ready?
Some of the stories published online featured people who threatened to commit suicide, and apparently there were some who called the PM and the CEO of the project Aurangazeb. What was going on?
Well, the only way to know, I thought, would be to go to Kashi and see for myself. And that is what I did.
When I was there, I saw plenty of construction work underway there. Large debris-laden stretches of land looked like mud pies whose icing were the many temple shikaras scattered all around. For as far as the eye could see, there were temples, small and big, emerging out of three or four-storeyed buildings that had either been partly or fully demolished.
The people I spoke to did express a sense of discomfort at their lives having to be reshuffled because of the project, but almost unanimously, I heard them say that a facelift for Kashi was necessary.
From the pilgrims to regular residents of Varanasi to those that had given up their homes, they all echoed, “Yes it is painful, this transformation. But we will have this wonderful thing to pass on to our next generation.” That the Kashi we pass on will be much better than the Kashi we inherited.
A lot of credit for change in attitude among the locals goes to the one who is at the helm of affairs here. Vishal Singh, who is the CEO of the project, decided to take it upon himself to convince every single stakeholder about the project. Initially, they rejected his ideas and some even hurled abuses at him. But today, they hail him as their son, or the best thing to happen to Kashi on the development front.
Singh has had to go to great lengths for the project. Things like getting an ailing lady treated multiple times and arranging for her to be taken care of and providing employment to young men from the families who were giving up their homes for the project. His humanitarian approach has won many hearts. Locals who have found employment, whether as contractors or labourers, are glad to be part of this long-pending idea that is moving towards reality.
'All for Baba Vishwanath', they say, adding that there is no reason to be unhappy about this.
So, from what I saw, things are looking good. The work is in progress and it’s happening at a great pace. Considering its large scale, one can only hope that the poet Bharatendu Harishchandra, who once lamented, “dekhi tumri kasi”, will be glad to see a transformation underway of this ancient city that in Mark Twain's words is "... older than history, older than tradition, older than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together".
With the Kashi corridor project, this old, old city will feel like new in what would be an inspiring turnaround for this ancient city.
Would you like to read our story on the redevelopment work going on in Kashi? It’s our cover story for the April 2019 print issue.
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