Op-Ed: The Mystery of the Missing Key

The most obvious question that arises after the announcement of the judicial inquiry into the missing key to the Ratna Bhandar (jewellery chest) of Lord Jagannath temple in Puri is this: why now? After all, the loss of the keys has been public knowledge since April 4, when a 17-member inspection went inside the Ratna Bhandar to take stock of the safety of the structure. What has the government been doing for two months? If it was serious about finding out when and how the keys were lost, if not find the keys, two months was a long enough time to arrive at the truth and fix responsibility for the loss. But in these two months, the temple administration hasn’t even bothered to file an FIR in this connection, forget taking anyone to task for it.

It is clear that the government’s hands were forced after the uproar following the story on the missing key run by OTV two days ago. Left to itself, it would have, in all probability, swept the whole thing under the carpet. The zealousness with which the administration has guarded the findings of the inquiry into the Brahma Parivartan fiasco during the Nabakalebara in 2015 has created an impression in the people’s mind that the government doesn’t want the truth to come out for reasons known only to itself. Hence, the possibility of something similar in this case cannot be ruled out.

That the judicial inquiry ordered today is aimed at buying time is actually a no-brainer. One doubts if even the Chief Minister, while issuing the order for the judicial inquiry today, really believed it would be completed within the stipulated three months. This columnist is not aware of any judicial inquiry that has completed its probe within the stipulated time, at least in the last two decades. Given the past record of inquiry commissions, this one is unlikely to give its report before the next elections. And that appears to have been the consideration in going for a judicial inquiry.

In fact, one can legitimately ask whether it really required a judicial inquiry to find out the truth in the first place. An honest inquiry by the temple administration or the police would have unearthed the truth in much lesser time. And more importantly, action could have been taken based on such an inquiry. In contrast, a judicial inquiry has no powers to punish anyone.

The Shree Jagannath Temple Act apparently provides for stock taking of the Ratna Bhandar every time a new temple management committee is constituted: in other words, every three years. But this provision has been violated by each of the 14 temple committees formed in the last three decades. No wonder there is doubt in the public mind about whether this lapse was just plain callousness or there is something more to it than meets the eye. What lends credence to such doubts is the fact that a section of the servitors was up in arms over the decision to open the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar as per the directive of the Orissa High Court, even after it was made clear that the 17-member committee would only inspect the condition of the structure and not take stock of the ornaments. It now appears that fears of snakes guarding the jewellery and mystery spirits present inside were deliberately raised by some people to make sure that there is no verification of the massive gold and diamond jewellery stocked inside the Ratna Bhandar. In the light of this concerted and desperate efforts to stop entry into the Ratna Bhandar, there is reason to believe that the violation of the rules was a deliberate act designed to protect the culprits. Had it not been for the High Court order to open the Ratna Bhandar, though for entirely different reasons, the fact that the keys have been lost would probably have remained undetected for several years more.

While on the subject of the missing key, it is important to take note of credible reports that the bulk of the 590 silver bricks recovered from the Emar Mutt facing the temple a few years ago has gone missing. This strengthens the suspicion that there is a racket that is engaged in pilfering the immense wealth of the temple and mutts connected to it. That this racket has cast its evil eyes on the mind-boggling wealth stocked inside the Lord’s abode in the form of jewellery is very much within the realm of possibility.

The complete silence of Law minister Pratap Jena and even the normally voluble chief administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) Pradeep Jena has deepened the mystery of the missing keys and strengthened suspicions of foul play.

Given the misgivings of crores of Jagannath loving Odias, it’s all the more important to break open the locks to the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar and tally the available stock of the jewelry with the inventory last made way back in 1978 to find out if there has indeed been some pilferage. Such a stock taking is essential even if the stock is intact to allay the apprehensions in the minds of the devotees, if nothing else.

(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.)