Varanasi, the constituency Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen to keep, has expectations high and varied. From “at least 20 hours of electricity” to “encroachment-free roads” and “an outer ring road”, from a “clean Ganga” and “beautification of ghats” to “special facilities” for boatmen and tea vendors, and even “a direct connect with the PM’s Office”, the wish-list varies according to whom it comes from — a BJP MLA sitting on an “indefinite fast”, the city mayor, intellectuals at Banaras Hindu University, a boatman, the mahant of Sankat Mochan Mandir, or a tea vendor.
The constituency started facing power cuts eight to 12 hours long since the day the election results were announced, but people are optimistic things will change for the better. “Ab Kashi model hoga,” says Raghunandan Manjhi, 36, a boatman at Dashashwamedh Ghat as he credits Modi with getting boatmen released from Pakistan.
“Varanasi has had many important personalities but has elected the PM for the first time, so expectations are high.” He hopes that with the expected beautification of the ghats and cleaning of the Ganga, boatmen too will be paid higher. And like many others, he shares a little “inside information”: “The PM is coming here in the second week of June.”
Others have a detailed “action plan” ready for the PM. “Multi-level parking, widening of the Andhra Bridge, an outer ring road, a foot-bridge near the station, polythene-free zones, flyovers — all these are part of a ‘Mission Kashi’ I have prepared and sent to the PMO,” says Mayor Ram Gopal Mohle. Asked about reports about a “mini-PMO” in Varanasi, he calls it “wishful thinking” but adds, “There will certainly be a separate office for the MP.”
Shyam Dev Rai Chaudhary, 75, seven-term BJP MLA from Varanasi South and popularly known as “Dada”, is sitting on a fast demanding that the “PM’s constituency should be free of electricity cuts”. “We have waited long enough,” he says. “If neighbouring Azamgarh, which has elected Mulayam Singh Yadav, can get 20 hours of electricity, so should Varanasi, which has elected the PM. There are no ifs and buts.”
B D Tripathi, professor of botany at BHU and expert member in the National Ganga River Basin Authority chaired by the PM, says: “Now that Varanasi has become the PM’s constituency, we hope Ganga-related projects will be implemented by a central agency, and that there will be more talk about conservation rather than mere beautification because it is he who has brought conservation of the Ganga back into the limelight.” He has written to Modi with an action plan and is hoping to be called to Delhi for a discussion.
V N Mishra, mahant of Sankat Mochan Mandir and also professor of electronics engineering at BHU, says, “Over Rs 1,500 crore was spent on the Ganga Action Plan in the first phase but even today 200 million litres untreated sewage a day is going directly into the river in Varanasi alone. We hope there will be a workable plan this time.”
And Bharat Sonkar, who sells tea outside Vishwanath Mandir, hopes tea vendors will get special facilities. “Modiji will get things done by the state government. He said so and we believe him,” he says.
The railway potential
Two packed-to-capacity special trains -on May 19 and 25-from Varanasi to Delhi in the run-up to Narendra Modi’s swearing-in on May 26 have brought the traffic potential of the PM’s constituency to the notice of Indian Railways.
Railways has started three summer special trains to and from Varanasi starting May 28. One, from Varanasi to Mumbai CST, will run once a week until June 28. The other two, a pair connecting Ahmedabad and Darbhanga via Varanasi, will make weekly trips until July 2.
Currently, of 350-odd summer special trains, at least 18 touch Varanasi. “We anticipated there would be some demand from Varanasi to Delhi before the swearing-in, and decided to run two full-fledged trains. To our surprise, both trains ran almost full,” a Rail Bhavan source said.
While mulling the possibility of running more summer specials, officials also identified capacity constraints at Varanasi station as roadblocks. An official said if Varanasi gets more trains, it will be primarily because of traffic demand, and added they were waiting to get new Railway Minister Sadanand Gowda’s mind on the matter before proceeding further.