In 2014, experts not only from India, but from around the world, looked upon at one of the oldest colonized cities in the world, Varanasi as a political battleground. One wasn’t just certain, rather were twofold-sure that the city would elect the person who carries decades of administrative know-how as its representative in the Parliament. Narendra Modi providentially is also the head of the party that secured clear mandate in the 2014 general polls; hence the city is the talk of the town today. But, was it only the general election of this year that Varanasi’s stature became known to the world? Was there any reason why the most dominant leader of India till date chose this city, located on the bank of sacred river Ganga, as his constituency? Political connoisseurs say that this was a move to target other constituencies of U.P. and Bihar, but the elected MP of this city made it clear on the very first day he visited the place as a weighty contender that nil political equations landed him there, the only reason being that he was spiritually and ideologically linked to Varanasi, the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism. Even if the city is that diplomatically prominent besides being the heart and soul of the most followed religion of India, shall it not be considered more than just a place in the Indian Territory? Can the status of being ‘one of the constituencies’ in the over-populated state of U.P. a justifiable notion for the beloved city of Hindu deity, Lord Shiva?
I would not be the only one or the most qualified one to connote the significance of the city of Varanasi in the history of India, history of mankind. Being the cultural center of entire India, Varanasi embraces a history that is older than even most of the religions in the world. Home to one of the most prominent universities of Asia, the Varanasi Hindu University, and widely appreciated as the spiritual capital of India, Varanasi is the nerve center where the holy book, Ramcharitmanas was written by Tulsidas. Hinduism is not the only religion endorsed; Buddhism has alike relevance as Gautama Buddha gave his foremost sermon at Sarnath, and then even the Muslim aggressors endeavored to alter the essence of the city by quashing temples and saints in view to promoting Islam. God Shiva is said to be the founder of Varanasi, the place where the Pandavas wandered in search of atone for their sins. For those relying on only scientifically proven facts, let me tell you that archaeological evidences have validated that human movement in Varanasi originated as early as in 11th century BC; hence this is the place where mankind marked its preliminary presence. I will also quote what Mark Twain said about the city in 1897, ‘Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together’. Benares was renamed to Varanasi, originating from rivers Varuna and Asi, in 2006. The list of fame and standing is endless when we talk of Varanasi; millions of domestic and foreign tourists relishing this every year.
What led to the devaluation of Varanasi was also the city’s fame. It was in 1194 and the mourning Turkish Muslim rule when Qutb-ud-din Aibak commenced blood-spattered ire in the city ordering demolition of Hindu temples, slaying of Hindu saints, eventually the decline of the holy city all during three centuries of Muslim occupation. Right from Feroz Shah to the Afghan ruler, Sikander Lodi, Hinduism and devoutness observed destruction in the name of spreading Islam throughout India. The essence and life-force of Varanasi repudiated to die and the city remained to be the nerve center of theology, education, and intellectuality. The Bhakti Movement saw the birth and workings of one of the most prominent saint-poets of all times, Saint Kabir. Also link the birth of Ravidas and move of eminent preachers including Guru Nanak Dev to the same context. Then was the day when the stone of democracy was laid in the mid of the 20th century and the Varanasi Nagar Nigam, Varanasi Development Authority, MLAs, MP and such other offices took over the development of the city. In almost every of the pictures that I could see on the internet when I searched for Ghats in Varanasi, to my sadness the walls were not even cemented in the buildings visible and the vague symmetry was killing the scene. Can the Vatican City, Rome, or Mecca city, Saudi Arabia meet the expense of being the most holy places of respective faiths in case the conditions were like Varanasi?
Yet again, but this time due to political reasons, Varanasi is at the very center when we talk of eminence and standing. But will the literacy rate, which is sub-80 per cent, surge with this rise in stature? Will the spinning and weaving industry be able to cope up with the era where domestic and foreign products are not that distinctive? Tourism is second most key industry, but with unfitting substructure, inapt running, and fading sparkle of the old city, the same is confined to just a few lakh overseas voyagers. The condition of the most sacred river of Hindus, Ganga is known to all. Taking the substance in his cognizance, the MP of Varanasi, and luckily the Prime Minister of India has initiated apt measures, including setting up of Clean Ganga Fund and bringing the same under the CSR spending. A partner city MOU, signed by the Indian Ambassador and Kyoto Mayor in Japan, provides for cooperation in areas of heritage conservation, city modernization along with teamwork in art, culture and academics. The MOU came into being during the five-day visit of Narendra Modi to Japan, an apt reflection of his assurance towards making Varanasi a smart city. But can the works of new government and measures for enticement of weavers deliver expected outcomes when the city under dual supervision, state government and intact labors from the MP who represents city in the Lok Sabha.
Indeed, not only for the furtherance of the Hinduism-backed culture, but also for the betterment of all other communities living in the ‘city of Lord Shiva’, Varanasi must be designated as a Union Territory, embracing other prominent places of cultural heritage viz. Allahabad erstwhile Prayag, the second oldest city of India; Ayodhya, the Ram Janambhoomi; Gaya, holy place for Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism; Chitrakoot, town of archaeological and artistic standing; Arrah, home to ancient temples and hermitages; and Rewa, a city deriving its name from the river Narmada and rich in natural resources and educational facilities. This will bring the same under direct administration of the central government and the overseeing by respective state governments will come to an end. Varanasi deserved the status even prior to Puducherry where the French sway was what the thinkers endeavored to preserve, but what about the oldest culture? It is to be noticed that the status of ‘Union Territory’ may be assigned to an Indian sub-jurisdiction for reasons like preservation of rights of indigenous cultures, for deterring political mayhem, and so on. The cluster of mentioned cities craves for quick perusal and astute thinking from the new ruler, a verdict that should had been given much earlier to elevate the spiritual, religious and divine richness of India.