Banaras or bust

Banaras might just bust the bank for Modi or bust up India for good

Mohan Guruswamy 

Varanasi or Kashi is arguably the oldest city in the world. It was a well-settled habitation as early as the 11th century BC. It finds mention in the Rig Veda as Kashi or the luminous city. It lay on the great road that connected Pataliputra with Taxila. One was the capital of the great Magadhan kingdom and the other was the great centre of learning. It is said that Varanasi got its name from the rivers Varuna and Assi, which run through it. And the famous Assi Ghat gets its name from the river. 

Varanasi is to the Hindu what Mecca is to the Muslim. The Hindus’ spiritual capital, like India itself has fallen on bad days. Maybe it has fared even worse than India? Varanasi today is a stinking, grubby and dirty city. Even by our already low standards it is the pits. I have never been to a dirtier and more decrepit city. I have visited it a number of times and every street and every street corner of Varanasi narrates the story of the fall of our once great civilization. This city might just be the backdrop for a Hindu resurgence contemplated by a Hindu revivalist? 

A Prime Minister from here might give the city the attention it deserves. To that extent I am glad that Narendra Modi is contemplating contesting from here. Since the probability of his heading the next government is higher than others, it might just be the break this old and historic city deserves. It needs to be cleaned up. It needs a sewage system and a sewage treatment plant or two. The Ganges needs a break from Varanasi where all sewers are open and the excrement just flows into the river from hundreds of points. Narendra Modi might just be the man who can clean it up. 

If Modi decides to contest from Banaras, the symbolism too is obvious. But it will also flag off some very divisive questions as well. The Gyan Vapi or Alamgiri Mosque would certainly be quite high on the list. The Mughal Emperor, Aurangazeb Alamgir after demolishing the original Kashi Vishvanath Temple, built it in 1669. The mosque that also encloses within its precincts, the famous Gyan Vapi well (well of wisdom and learning) still has visible signs that much of the material used to build it came from the historic temple. There is also much incontrovertible historical record to confirm this. Arun Shourie has written much about this and the mosque at the Krishna Janmabhoomi at Mathura. 

Rani Ahilyabai Holkar built the present Kashi Vishvanath temple in 1780, adjacent to the original site. The RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have for long demanded that this be "corrected". LK Advani once famously described the Babri Masjid as an "ocular distortion." This must then be a much bigger one for Kashi is one of the dozen jyotirlingas