VARANASI: The newly-inaugurated Kashi Vishwanath Corridor in Varanasi is being largely hailed as a symbol of resurrection of spiritual consciousness of India but a section of people here claim that the mega project is being showcased so that the ruling party gets a "political edge" in the upcoming state elections.
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 river Ganga 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 is the home constituency of Modi since 2014, and during the first day of his two-day visit to the temple town, he first paid obeisance at Kal Bhairav Mandir, fondly called 'Kashi ke Kotwal' and after formally opening the corridor in the presence of a larger number of saints and seers, took part in a 'cruise baithak' with 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 Swarved Mahamandir in Varanasi, he asserted that "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 is a "subtle political messaging" in these events and public outreaching, given the state assembly elections 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, 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 Manikarnika Ghat, was not very impressed with the opening ceremony, and alleged it was "all timed to leverage benefit in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls".
"Common man is facing the burden of inflation and the impact of the pandemic, but this spectacle, hosted in our Kashi is not what it seems. The Hindutav politics of this party is known, and the mega project is being showcased to get the votes of Hindus, the majority community here," he alleged.
Prabhat Singh, another resident of the holy city, claimed 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 2020 polls".
The inauguration of the grand project, which has expanded the Kashi Vishwanath temple area from only 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 for 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 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 in the holy cities round the clock.
The mega corridor event had drawn a sharp reaction from Samajwadi Party 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 chief minister with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Yadav's remarks are expected to raise the political heat in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the assembly polls early 2022.
Modi in his address during its foundation stone-laying on March 8, 2019, had also observed that it was difficult to take people into confidence to give their properties, and ensure the project did not take political colour.