- Culture & Society
Varanasi's Vishwanath Corridor Project
15 Jun 2022
In Germany, there are many controversial construction projects such as Stuttgart 21 or Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. In India, too, large-scale prestige projects have made headlines in recent years, such as the Central Vista Project in New Delhi (find our article here) or the so called Statue of Unity – a massive effigy of the Indian politician and independence fighter Vallabhbhai Patel that has been erected in the state of Gujarat. The latter was inaugurated in October 2018 with an impressive height of 182 metres which earned it the title of the world’s largest statue. This monumental statue, made of reinforced concrete and bronze, easily exceeds New York’s famous Lady Liberty in size.
The public debate concerning the statue points to the more general question of what India’s political orientation should look like. Not only the enormous size of the building and the associated costs of almost 30 billion rupees (approx. 380 million euros) have attracted criticism. In addition, the allegation was made that the statue for Patel would cast a shadow on the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation. For many Indians, however, the statue symbolises their pride in the Indian nation and their reverence for the India’s independence fighters. In addition, the statue now attracts many tourists and thus strengthens the economy in the state of Gujarat.
Read about the Indian state of Gujarat here!
At the end of last year, another major development project attracted nation-wide attention when the first phase of the Vishwanath Corridor Project in the northern Indian city of Varanasi was completed. In March 2019, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for this prestigious project in the famous pilgrimage city on the Ganges river. Two and a half years later, Modi once more travelled to Varanasi to attend the opening ceremony. The project, with a total budget of 8 billion rupees (approx. 95 million euros), is aimed at improving access to the centuries-old Kashi Vishwanath Dham temple as well as to the sacred river for the masses of pilgrims visiting the ancient city each year. For this purpose, extensive construction work has been carried out, in particular to widen and modernise the connecting paths between the temple complex and the Ghats on the riverbank. As part of the renovation, several buildings were newly built, such as a tourist centre, a museum, a viewing gallery and a food court.
Due to the scope of the project and the importance of Varanasi as one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites in all of India, media coverage on the project has been extensive right from the start. It therefore does not come as a surprise that the project is accompanied by political debates and has not only received praise but also criticism. The construction site covers an area of almost 50,000 m² and thus exceeds the original size of the temple complex by far. Therefore, more than 300 pieces of land had to be acquired and old buildings were demolished. According to the BJP government, which has initiated the project, around 1,400 shopkeepers and homeowners were compensated during this process. In addition, over 40 ancient temples were discovered and restored.
In contrast to the government’s statement, however, critics complain that the compensations are inadequate and that age-old cultural artefacts have been lost as a result of the construction work. The necessity of carrying out the project on this scale has also been questioned as other development projects are considered to be more urgent. Other critical voices claim that the project could be instrumentalized for political purposes and point to the fact that Narendra Modi’s own electoral constituency is in Varanasi. After all, the elections for the state parliament of Uttar Pradesh have taken place in spring 2022 – an important indicator for the national elections in 2024 and therefore of great importance for the ruling BJP.
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Written by: Ferdinand Schlechta
Photo Credits: Ferdinand Schlechta
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