Op-Ed: Clumsy Obfuscation Bid By Temple Admin Deepens Suspicion

The state government, the Jagannath Temple administration, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and its apologists would have us believe that Rashtrapati Bhavan had not expressed any displeasure over the misbehaviour of the President and the First Lady during their visit to the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri on March 18 this year, as reported in the media. We would love to believe what they have said, but for a few questions that none of them have bothered to answer.

All of them have been harping on the fact that ‘no letter’ had been received from Rashtrapati Bhavan to back the claim that no displeasure was ever expressed. But is it not possible that the displeasure could have been conveyed through informal channels so as not to precipitate the issue? If no displeasure was ever conveyed to anyone, formally or informally, then why did the collector tell the meeting of the temple management committee held two days after the President’s visit that Rashtrapati Bhavan did express displeasure over the jostling he and his wife were subjected to by the sevayats inside the sanctum sanctorum even before leaving Puri? As if that wasn’t enough, he informed the meeting that Rashtrapati Bhavan had also expressed its misgivings about the disparaging comments made by a servitor about the First Citizen (the reference here was to  Damodar Mahasuar, who had cribbed in front of TV cameras about the fact that he didn’t get a ‘single rupee: by way of dakshina from the President Ramnath Kovind) moments after his departure. If no displeasure was ever expressed by Rashtrapati Bhavan, did the collector cook up the story? If he did, why has no action been taken against him for misleading the committee on such a highly sensitive issue?

The state government and the temple administration are trying to be too clever by half. While harping on the point that no ‘letter’ of displeasure had been received, they are not denying that any such incident happened during the First Couple’s darshan.  They would have loved to pretend that no such incident happened, but there was one hitch. Having already announced that separate inquiries have been launched into the alleged harassment of the President and his wife by the district and the temple administration soon after the controversy broke, they could not possibly have done a U-turn and claimed that no incident ever took place. It would have led to the inevitable question: if no incident ever took place, what was being inquired into? The fact that it took the temple administration well over three months to order an inquiry on such a sensitive issue – and that too only after the media leaked the minutes of the March 20 temple management committee meeting – leaves little doubt that it has something to hide.

What Puri SP Sarthak Sarangi told the media on Thursday also bolsters the impression that something did happen during the President’s darshan. Some pandas had tried to break the security cordon around the President and the temple management committee had been duly informed about it, the SP told journalists. By all available indications, an incident does appear to have taken place. If that indeed is the case, are we to assume that the President was subjected to humiliation, but chose to be a sport and took it in his stride without complaining? Given the way the protocol-conscious Rashtrapati Bhavan officials act, it is hard to believe that they would allow such a serious breach to pass without a reprimand to the district administration. In all likelihood, they did give the collector and SP a piece of their mind verbally before leaving and that is what the collector apprised the meeting of, as he was duty bound to do. It is significant that the collector Arvind Agarwal has remained incommunicado for the media ever since the proceedings of the temple management committee meeting were leaked. It is possible that he has been instructed to keep his mouth shut since anything that he may say now could lead to a fresh controversy.

Whether in the Kunduli gang rape case or the recent controversy the missing key to the Srimandir Ratna Bhandar or the latest uproar over discourtesy to President, the government has repeatedly tied itself in knots in its desperate but ill-conceived attempt to sweep the whole thing under the carpet. The Jagannath temple administration, in particular, has excelled in the art of cover-up repeatedly since the big fiasco in the all–important Brahma Parivartan ritual during the Nabkalebara in 2015. Far from convincing anyone though, such clumsy cover-up bids have raised more doubts about the government’s intention.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).