It’s too difficult to wriggle out from this mystery

By A K Sahoo

Bhubaneswar, June 18: Odisha government’s attempt to wriggle out of the controversy generated over the “mysterious missing” of Lord Jagnnath’s hugely-rich Ratna Bhandar key does not appear to be that easy. The disappearance of the original key and sudden surfacing of duplicate key has surely made the matter more mysterious and inexplicable.

The Naveen Patnaik, as it attempts to move out of the scene, – finds getting more trapped in the quagmire of questions and controversies.

Ratna Bhandar is the treasure trove of the 12th century Sri Mandir, the abode of Lord Jagannath. According to the Odisha Government, it has over 12,000 tolas (each total is approximately Rs 10 grams) of gold jewelries and precious gem stones, including diamonds, worth over several thousand crores.

The missing of the key came to light when the state administration, following an order of the Odisha High Court, on April 4 tried to open the inner part of Ratna Bhandar for enumeration and evaluation of current prices of the jewelleries and gemstones after a period of 34 years.

A 16-member team led by Pradeep Jena, then Chief Administrator of Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), – had to suspend the inspection midway due to “non-availability” of the key.

Ratna Bhandar was last opened in 1985.

Political parties, especially the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, who are making serious bids to grab power in the 2019 assembly polls, – have rightly the issue a golden opportunity to nail the Naveen Patnaik government that has been ruling the state for over 18 years now. They have launched protest and agitations in massive scales across the state to fan people’s sentiment against the ruling party.

The BJP and Congress upped their ante against the BJD after the proceedings of the April 4 inspection mentioning the “non-availability” of the key got leaked to the media on June 1. They immediately demanded resignation of the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and a CBI probe into the mysterious missing of the key.

Realising that people of Odisha have strong emotional links with the Lord Jagannath and the Opposition would blow up the key missing use to extract maximum possible political out of it, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on June 2 ordered judicial probe into the incident. Justice Raghubir Das, a retired High Cout judge, has been appointed as the head of the judicial commission and asked to submit the report within 3 months.

The judicial probe order, however, has failed to pacify the BJP and Congress leaders who have been pressing for the CBI probe. In fact, the BJP has launched statewide agitation against the BJD holding the party responsible for the missing of the key.

Reacting to the state administration’s clarification on June 13 that it has found a duplicate key of Ratna Bhandar from the Puri collector’s record room, – BJP spokesperson Pitambar Acharya on Thursday said the missing of the original key and sudden appearance of a duplicate one smacked of a bigger conspiracy to hide the truth.

“The administration says it has found the duplicate key. Where is the original key? Why a duplicate key was kept in the record room? It appears that there is a bigger conspiracy to divert the attention of the public from the missing of the Ratna Bhandar key,” said BJP spokesperson Pitambar Acharya, adding, the non-availability of the key was the biggest scam of the millennium.

The missing of the key and sudden announcement by Puri district collector Arvind Agrawal that a duplicate key has been found, points to some serious lapses.

One would surely ask where is the missing original key? When was it last used and where was it kept? Why the duplicate was required and when it was last used?

The Odisha government owes answers to these queries. Unless and until, the people get to know about this, the doubt will further rise instead of subsiding.

“Why the Chief Minister who is the custodian of Puri temple silent on the issue. His silence adds to the mystery, does not solve it,” says Union petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

“The Puri collector who had a few days ago said the key was unavailable, now says he had found a duplicate key. The government must explain when and why the duplicate required and during whose period it was kept in the collector’s record room,” adds Mr Pradhan.

With 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections fast approaching, the Naveen Patnaik government which had earlier wriggled it out from major controversies like mining scam and chit fund scam, – now finds the missing of the Ratna Bhandar snowballing into a major controversy, threatening to erode its popularity. And, according to analysts, the government will be dragged to more difficult times as it prolongs the mystery without solving it.

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