Op-Ed: Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

It’s the fabled rabbit and tortoise story all over again. In a move that was in refreshing contrast to the lazy, laidback way it normally moves, the Odisha government was first off the blocks in seeking a Geographical Indication (GI) status for rasagola in May, June 2015. But three years down the line, it is no closer to getting the coveted tag than it was at the beginning. As ‘rabbit’ Odisha went into deep slumber after the first few steps, the ‘tortoise’ – in this case the West Bengal government – galloped ahead and got the GI tag for ‘Banglar Rosogulla’.

Even at this stage, the state government appears to be in no hurry to comply with the requirements for the GI tag. It even refuses to acknowledge that time is running out. Finance minister Sashi Bhusan Behera is ‘hopeful’ that Odisha would get the GI status for rasagola by Niladri Bije next year, thus giving a full year’s breathing space to the government. He even made a virtue out of the fact that the GI registry in Chennai had not rejected Odisha’s case yet!

MSME minister Parfulla Samal went one up on the Finance minister, boasting that the government would provide the clarifications on 14 counts sought by the GI office by the first week of August ‘ahead of the deadline’! For those not familiar with the sequence of events, let it be made clear that the ‘deadline’ was July 22. It was the state government which had sought an extension of the deadline by one month because it had dozed off again. It would be interesting to wait and see if the minister was serious this time or was just buying time till the issue crops up again as he has done repeatedly in the past.

After receiving flak for failing to get its act together even as the Bengal government pipped it to the post, the Odisha government moved the application for GI tag to ‘Odishara rasagola’ only on  February 23, two and a half years after the move was initiated. Since it took so long to move the application, it was natural for people to expect that the government must have done a thorough job and presented a watertight case. But the fact that the GI registry asked for clarification on no less than 14 counts proved that the state government had filed a shoddy application hurriedly without doing its homework just a day ahead of the by-election in Bijepur for some political mileage. Bengal, in contrast, got GI tag for its rosogulla in one go without having to clarify on anything. Thank god for small mercies, it hasn’t yet termed the rejection as yet another case of ‘central neglect’!

If senior journalist Asit Mohanty, whose services had been requisitioned by the government to prepare Odisha’s case to be presented before the GI Registry, is to be believed, Odisha has a foolproof case to get GI status for rasagola. He cites the Dandi Ramayana to claim that the tradition of rasagola being offered to Lord Jagannath on Niladri Bije day is at least six centuries old while Bengal rosogulla has a history of less than two centuries. Mohanty’s claim has been corroborated by other scholars and experts on the Jagannath cult. And yet, it was Bengal that walked away with the GI tag while Odisha was left twiddling its thumbs.

With the government failing miserably in convincing the GI office about its claim, the people had no choice but to do what they can to buttress Odisha’s claim on rasagola. Like the previous two years, #RasagolaDibas was trending on Twitter on Niladri Bije on Wednesday. Apart from love for the syrupy sweet, the posts on the social media reflected anger, frustration and helplessness at the gross apathy of the government. Going by the reactions expressed, most people have given up on the government’s ability to take the battle to its logical conclusion. If Odisha still gets the GI tag for its rasagola, it would be nothing short of a miracle.

Odisha had everything going for it as it entered the race with Bengal to get GI status for rasagola. But the government that boasts of a ‘not talk, but hard work’ credo managed the incredible feat of conceding a walkover to its neighbor. It was a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

(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).