Development being his main plank, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the six-lane, 73-km Varanasi-Prayagraj National Highway in his constituency to improve connectivity in the entire eastern Uttar Pradesh. The widened section of NH 19 has been built with an outlay of Rs. 2,447 crore and is expected to reduce the travel time between the two cities by about one hour. The prime minister was in Kashi, believed to be Lord Shiva’s abode, for a mega development push and to review the progress of the Rs 600-crore Kashi Vishwanath Extension and Beautification project. The infra projects are part of prime minister’s ambitious plan of developing Varanasi on the lines of Kyoto. Although Ganga is not yet pollution-free, the famous ghats of Varanasi have become cleaner and more picturesque. The development, the PM said, will boost tourism to the city. This is his first visit to the city during the pandemic. In line with his initiative to make India aatmnirbhar (self-reliant), the prime minister pitched for local products as he asked the crowd to complete his slogan “vocal for” by adding “local” and told them that the preference for local products during Diwali should be made a daily affair.

The thrust of the prime minister’s address, however, was the farmers’ agitation. Insisting that the farmers should have access to the bigger markets, he said “reforms have given agriculturists new options and legal protection”. He asked if the farmers should not get freedom to sell his produce directly to those who give them better prices and facilities. He attacked the Opposition for “cheating farmers” in the name of loan waivers and minimum support price and fertilisers. While reminding farmers that his government kept its promise of giving them 1.5 times more MSP as per the M.S. Swaminathan’s report, he said “The farmers are being misled on these historic reforms by the people who have misled them for decades. The prime minister did not appear agreeable to the agitating farmers demand for repeal of the new agri-marketing legislation.

He charged the Opposition for creating apprehensions in the minds of the people and instigating protests over “what has not happened, or was never going to happen”. Farmers doubted the government’s intentions because of the lies being fed to them and assured the farming community of clearing all their doubts. But the farmers have refused to budge.

The All-India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee called the PM’s statement an “insult” to their hopes of their concerns being addressed by the government. In farmers’ view the legislation is about “freedom to the corporate, opportunities to the corporate and income for the corporate”. Farmers reiterated that no political party was behind their agitation as they braved the winter chill. 

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