VARANASI: Barely 100 metres from NaMo tea stall in Assi is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public relations office, which the locals call ‘mini PMO’. Talk at the tea stall is centred on religion and politics, and how priests and politicians in the holy city are exploiting voters even as they have failed to address their key concern — jobs.
Ratan Lal, who made several trips to the mini PMO last year with a request for employment, is disappointed over the scant attention paid to industries in the political constituency of the Prime Minister.
“The government is cleaning the ghats since 2014 to make Varanasi another Kyoto, while the young population is migrating to big cities for employment. We were promised that industries would come to Varanasi after Modi became Prime Minister, but that did not happen. Now, after almost three years, the government has started work on three multi-modal terminals, but where are the jobs?” Lal asked.
Shiv Charan Pathak, who runs the mini PMO, asserts that the country’s most high-profile parliamentary constituency will soon become a symbol of holistic development. Pathak blamed the erstwhile Samajwadi Party government in the state for stalling and delaying Modi’s development plan, thus killing job prospects.
“We are setting up a piped natural gas plant that will generate more than 6,000 jobs. The cargo terminal will also generate employment opportunities for locals. We have spent hundreds of crores on transforming the ghats to provide a renewed boost to the tourism sector, which employs thousands of youths. Modi has changed the body and soul of Kashi, not just the employment scenario,” Pathak claimed.
Politics is a game of slogans. The local BJP unit has published a brochure on its achievements, featuring catchy slogans. It claims, ‘Modi raj me badal gayi Shiv nagri ki surat’ (the face of Lord Shiva’s city has changed under Modi’s rule).
Among the achievements listed are four major road projects launched with a budget of more than Rs 8,000 crore, including a ring road around the city that will cost Rs 261 crore. The centre is also spending Rs 222 crore to develop tourism. Besides, it is installing water ATMs at the ghats and reviving historically significant ponds, which may cost approximately Rs 11 crore.
Congress leader Prajanath Sharma rejects the BJP’s claims. He said many of the projects were still on paper and some of the work had been done just to gain publicity. Sharma said the government did not have definite numbers on jobs created in Varanasi, and the real test for the BJP would be the municipal elections, the results of which will be announced on December 1.
“Old lamp posts are being replaced with new ones in areas most frequented by outsiders, so that the pictures look good. If you go to the inner parts of the city, the roads are in bad condition and flooded with sewage, and it is difficult to walk.
“They had promised jobs and better opportunities for weavers, but handloom workers are quitting their profession. We don’t need Kyoto, we need Kashi with more jobs and prosperity,” Sharma said.
The road to Peeli Kothi, the weavers’ colony, is indeed flooded with sewage, but a local BJP leader said on condition of anonymity that the main reason for this was digging of the road to lay power cables. Haffizuddin, a weaver-turned-rickshaw puller, said he was eagerly waiting for the 2019 election, expecting the road to be relaid properly before the campaign began.