From spruced up ghats, well-lit at night, to a smooth four-lane road connecting the city airport to the temple town, and from a cancer hospital to dirty walls now adorned with vibrant artwork, change in the last five years is evident in many ways in Varanasi.
Ajay Kumar, an autorickshaw driver, can’t stop gushing about the new Babatpur Road and he often tells visitors at Varanasi junction to go see the road to feel the change .
In 2014, the same road was in a poor condition and tourists coming to the town would often curse experiencing the rough ride. Now, they can also see nice trees planted there, he said.
In the main city, streets look spruced up with vintage-style lamp posts installed on prominent roads, including the famous Godowlia Chowk that leads to the Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Go and see the ghats, if you want to see the change in Varanasi. It will delight your senses. The PM has turned ghats and city walls into vibrant spaces, he should get another term, said 52-year-old Kamal Upadhyay, who lives near Godowlia Chowk.
But 32-year-old Abhay Yadav, whose runs a hotel-cum-restaurant in an old building overlooking the iconic Dashashwamedh Ghat, is not quite impressed by these fancy lights .
It feels good to see the ghats sparkling at night in dazzling colours. But what about the Ganga? Shouldn’t cleaning this holy river be the talking point? All this dazzle has no meaning if the Ganga is not clean. Frankly, I do not feel any change in these five years, except some cosmetic developments, he said.
Yadav, a resident of Katuapura, is a certified tourist guide and feels aghast at the new, ambitious Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project, for which, he said, hundreds of old houses, many over centuries-old, have been demolished.
That was our heritage and should have been preserved, the soul of Banaras lives in its gullies, but in the name of ‘vikas’, so much of our legacy got bulldozed. On one hand, Modiji talks about making Kashi a Kyoto, and on the other hand, he knocks down our priceless heritage, he rued.
The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, the foundation stone for which was laid by Prime Minister Modi on March 8, is considered a dream project for his constituency. He had then said the project was a beginning of realisation of a dream to really do something for Kashi .
In a way, it is a festival of Bhole Baba’s (Kashi Vishwanath temple) liberation (‘mukti ka parv hai’), who for ages had been surrounded by walls, Modi had said after laying the foundation stone.
Amit Singh, a bookstore owner, whose shop is located close to the corridor project site, however, is happy about the project, saying, Sometimes, to achieve something big, we have to make small sacrifices.
But, ahead of the polling in the temple town on Sunday, Benares is divided on other issues too related to the five-year term of the Modi government.
Suraj Prajapati, 21, a first-time voter, and resident of Varanasi, who is pursuing an undergraduate course in mathematics at the Allahabad University, said, I appreciate Modiji’s good work as PM, but his ‘pakoda’ remarks had really punctured my morale as a youth of this country.
Should the government of the day not work to ensure jobs to us after we graduate or are we expected to fry ‘pakodas’ if we don’t get jobs? he asked.
And, even during campaigning, I saw on television, references to Pulwama and Balakot airstrike by him and his senior party colleagues. As a conscious youth, I felt it should not have been done, instead they should have spoken about jobs, education and health sectors, Prajapati said.
City-based Ram Chand Patel, 68, a retired government employee, however, feels national security is an important issue, and Modi government has worked on it .
As far as jobs are concerned, those who are hard-working will find jobs, only the lazy ones complain, he claimed.
Ashok Pandey, an autorickshaw driver, gets upset talking about demonetisation imposed by the Modi government in 2016, in a bid to curb black money.
Modiji and his party made big promises. He had promised to bring back black money, where is the black money? I have suffered in the ‘notebandi’ and my family has felt the pain. I know how bad an impact it had, he rued.
Krishna Murari Sinha, 52, a three-star hotel proprietor, is disturbed over debate on who is a “nationalist” and who is anti-national”.
If you do not agree with the government’s policy, its supporters would immediately brand you an ‘anti-national’, and if you support it, you are a patriot. This certificate of ‘deshbhakti’ or ‘deshdrohi’ being given out really perturbed me as a citizen, he said.
But ‘Modi mania’ is appear all pervasive here with books on the prime minister in big demand, and advertisements of the BJP, carrying slogans like — ‘Modi hai to Mumkin hai’ and ‘Aantakwad ko muhtod jawab’ seen on the back of autorickshaws.
At various paan, lassi and misrambu shops fronting the Godowlia Chowk, a special ‘Modi clock’ is displayed on their walls, with many owners eagerly waiting for the next government.