A game of one-upmanship: Modi and Akhilesh try to outdo one another in Varanasi
With all eyes on Poorvanchal in the coming elections, 22 December was a bonanza day for the region in general and Varanasi in particular as the pilgrim city was showered with gifts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
Laying the foundation
The Prime Minister laid the foundation stones of the Rs 200 crore, 120-bed super speciality block at the Institute of Medical Sciences, a 250-bed cancer hospital costing Rs 580 crore and a state-of-the-art 150-bed super speciality hospital for Employees' State Insurance (ESI) beneficiaries in his parliamentary constituency.
The hospitals, Modi said, will cater not only to the people of Varanasi but the entire region.
Not to be left behind, Akhilesh Yadav laid the foundation stone of the nation's longest six-lane highway, the 353-km Samajwadi Poorvanchal Expressway. It is yet another of the ambitious chief minister's big ticket projects, and was launched to project him as being pro-development.
The UP government has claimed time and again that it would change the face of eastern UP.
Sitting here in Lucknow, the chief minister also launched Varuna Corridor Project for the rejuvenation of the minor tributary of the Ganga which rises from Bhadohi. The Varuna Corridor Project is estimated to cost the government Rs 200 crore.
The one-upmanship game
In his constant attempts at one-upmanship, the chief minister has in the past targeted Modi for the failure of his Clean Ganga Project and the Varuna Corridor Project is aimed at proving a point. The project's model zone, however, has been developed in only 500 metres.
With Poorvanchal being crucial for both the parties in view of the coming elections, both the BJP and the Samajwadi Party were going all out to win the voters in this region.
Samajwadi Party government may not have given Varanasi or Poorvanchal much importance initially, but once the Modi government started rolling out schemes for the region the Samajwadi Party woke up to the challenge being posed by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
So when the Prime Minister decided to take the help of the Japanese to develop Varanasi on the lines of Kyoto, Akhilesh sent the then Varanasi district magistrate on a trip to South America because he thought making it a facsimile of Santiago, the Chilean capital, would be a better idea.
It was in September 2014 that before leaving Japan Modi reportedly called up Akhilesh to inform him about his plan to sign a "partnership pact" with Kyoto for the development of Varanasi.
The chief minister, however, decided to develop his own project for Varanasi, which resulted in the idea of Santiago. It reminded one of Amar Singh who, as the then chairman of UP State Development Council, travelled to Brazil to explore the possibility of producing vodka with the help of the Latin American country.
The party spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary had described the Santiago facsimile plan as a "novel idea."
It is a different matter that Varanasi reflects neither Kyoto nor Santiago and barring some of the ghats, not much has changed about the city.
Besides the partnership pact with Kyoto and the Namami Gange Project, the Prime Minister had earlier announced a slew of other sops like underground electricity cables, a new ring road and a trauma centre at the BHU hospital for the religious city. The progress on underground cabling and new ring road is slow.
Where successive state governments failed Varanasi was in creating a sewage infrastructure and preventing the several nullahs from depositing tonnes of urban sewage into the Ganga.
Some Samajwadi Party workers thought that if a PMO could be opened in Varanasi, why not a CMO? An office of the chief minister was opened with fanfare at a short distance from the PMO to coincide with Mulayam Singh Yadav's birthday on 22 November 2014.
After the CM's apparent disinterest in the PM's constituency, the office was quietly shut down.
While the race for power has brought development projects by the dozen, it will take quite a few assembly elections before Varanasi gets transformed into a Kyoto or Santiago.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu