India's Prime Minister Plans Hi-Tech Makeover For Ancient City of Varanasi

The Ganga riverfront at Varanasi (Wikimedia CC-BY-SA)

The Ganga riverfront at Varanasi (Wikimedia CC-BY-SA)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won his seat in the parliament by getting elected in the ancient city of Varanasi, where he's now set to make good on a campaign promise to transform the city into a blend of ancient culture and modern technology.

Elected in May, Modi didn't waste any time before getting to work on Varanasi's development. By August, he'd drawn up a blueprint to make Varanasi into a modern-day metropolis, complete with a transport system that includes rail and bus services. Simultaneously, Modi has emphasized the need to preserve the city's ancient heritage. Earlier this month, India signed an agreement with Japan to help realize Modi's development plans.

Varanasi is several thousand years old, and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. In ancient times, it was known as Kashi. In the Hindu way of life, it is one of the holiest cities on Earth. In fact, the word “Kashi” means “city of light”, and several hundred temples are located within the city's boundaries. The river Ganga, also considered holy by Hindus, flows through Kashi, too. Many ascetics make the city their home, taking a dip in the river every morning, before spending the day engaged in various practices and rituals.

Author Rajiv Malhotra shared his thoughts about Modi’s plans with his Twitter followers, who number more than 105,000:

Malhotra wasn't the only Twitter user who felt this way. Someone else tweeted almost two weeks earlier:

Not everyone supports Modi's plans in Varanasi, however. Ajay Rai (a member of India's Congress Party, which opposes Modi in the parliament) posted a photo of a protest against Varanasi’s chronic electricity shortages.

Opponents of Modi's plans for Varanasi won't have much time to stop him. Earlier this month, the prime minister signed the Kashi-Kyoto protocol on a visit to Kyoto, a place renown for blending modern and ancient aesthetics to create a beautiful cityscape.

On the second day of his trip to Japan, Modi stopped at the Toji temple (a UNESCO world heritage site) and remarked at how well the temple is maintained. “Kyoto has been able to preserve its thousand year legacy and cultural heritage while also staying abreast of all technological advances that is necessary in today's life. We are planning to do something similar in India as well, where we can achieve a similar union between preservation of culture and technological progress,” he told reporters.

The agreement with Tokyo will bring Japanese assistance with transforming Varanasi into a “smart city,” complete with a world-class transport system, botanical gardens, hi-tech cinemas, a classical music center, a waste treatment plant, and other facilities.

Before the pact was even signed, Journalist Minhaz Merchant tweeted that working with Japan will have dual significance for India:

Perhaps the time has come for India, with its millennia-old culture, to move fully into the twenty-first century and embrace its rich past and promising future simultaneously.


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