07 May 2014
Rahul Gandhi said in a recent interview that he doesn’t see the need to accept any of the abuses that the BJP is hurling against him and narrated a story of the Buddha to explain how he feels when opponents call him names.
But Buddhists in Uttar Pradesh and those who make a living out of the various Buddhist monuments in the State, known as the cradle of Buddhism, are not so impressed by politicians frequently mentioning the Buddha’s name without much reverence for his teachings. They say what they need is greater attention from the Central and State Governments so that the entire region — spanning two countries — is developed into an international tourist destination.
For example, in Kushinagar, where at least three prominent monuments related to themahaparinirvan of the Buddha are located, the number of foreign tourists is less than 70,000 a year. The centre gets about 7.5 lakh domestic pilgrims a year.
“Transportation is the biggest problem. Travelling on National Highway 29 connected to Gorakhpur is a nightmare. The construction of an airport is still on paper. Governments have not done anything to improve tourist inflow,” said local resident ZH Khan.
Pragyasheel, a Buddhist monk who depends on donations from pilgrims to sustain himself, said the communal situation in eastern Uttar Pradesh is disturbing. Not impressed by the high-decibel BJP campaign showcasing Modi, Pragyasheel said: “We were Dalits and converted to Buddhism along with BR Ambedkar. There are about 50,000 Buddhists in this region. We will all vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party.”
Bhikku Gyanwansh, another monk, said leaders such as Rahul and Modi should try to follow the five principles of Buddhism. “The quality of a leader lies in curbing material ambitions. If leaders fall for material things, riots and unrest will follow,” he said.
The residents of Sarnath are also worried about the poor infrastructure for pilgrims and tourists. Satish Chandra Sagar, a weaver with the Mahabodhi Society, expressed hope that Modi will solve the power problem in the area.
“The Mahabodhi Society is doing a lot of good work for weavers. What we need is a push for our work and business. Only Modi will be able to give that push,” he said. Deepchand Maurya, a local guide, said BSP supremo Mayawati embraced Buddhism in Sarnath but did nothing to develop the area.
“Unemployment is an issue. If Governments do anything for infrastructure development in this area, thousands of youth will get jobs,” he pointed out.
Local tourist information officers say that on an average 4 lakh pilgrims travel between Varanasi and Lumbini in a year. “The Government can easily build a Buddhist pilgrimage circle connecting various Buddhist sites in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. But there is no enthusiasm from the Centre or the State. Not even a toilet is available for tourists in most of these centres,” said a government officer.