Gold Rush on The Ganga

A god­man sends the Gov­ern­ment on a wild hunt for a trea­sure he dreamt of nine years ago.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Asit Jolly and Ashish Misra

Shob­han Sarkar’s be­sot­ted believ­ers are con­vinced he is “Hanu­man,” the myth­i­cal mon­key god, born again. “He can move moun­tains,” they say. The 65-year-old Hindu seer, who nudged his way to lo­cal promi­nence in river­bank set­tle­ments of the Ganga in Un­nao and Kan­pur two decades ago, has quite lit­er­ally struck gold. He’s got the gov­ern­ment of In­dia dig­ging fu­ri­ously to un­earth a 1,000-ton bul­lion he con­jured in a dream nine years ago.

On Septem­ber 29, the head of the Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia’s ( GSI) re­gional head­quar­ters at Lucknow, Satya Prakash Bharatiya was handed an ur­gent dis­patch marked “High Se­cret.” Union Mines Min­is­ter Din­sha Pa­tel wanted “ur­gent” ex­plo­rations to search for buried gold on the left bank of the Ganga at Dhaun­diya Kheda, a non­de­script ham­let 110 km from the Uttar Pradesh cap­i­tal.

Pa­tel’s di­rec­tions to the GSI were in­cred­u­lously in­spired by Union Min­is­ter of State for Agri­cul­ture Cha­ran Das Mahant who shot off let­ters to Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh, Fi­nance Min­is­ter P. Chi­dambaram, Home Min­is­ter Sushilku­mar Shinde, even Chan­dresh Ku­mari Ka­toch, the cul­ture min­is­ter, as well as the Min­istry of Mines, af­ter Shob­han Sarkar told him about his in­cred­i­ble dream.

“He (Sarkar) told me the quan­tity (of gold) was so huge that it could help tide over the cri­sis with the ru­pee,” Mahant, clearly pleased with him­self at be­ing the first to carry the ‘good news’ to Delhi, told re­porters when he re­turned to Dhaun­diya Kheda on Oc­to­ber 7 to wit­ness prepa­ra­tions for the dig. “I have even in­formed So­ni­aji

and Rahul Gandhi,” he said.

The sadhu’s fan­tasy draws from a cen­tury-old fa­ble about Raja Ram Baksh Singh, an Avadhi princeling of Un­nao. Lo­cal folk­lore says the raja con­cealed a trea­sure be­low his fortress out­side Dhaun­diya Kheda be­fore the Bri­tish ex­e­cuted him for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 1857 War of In­de­pen­dence.

Sarkar em­bel­lished the fic­tion: “The brave king told me where the gold was buried, in a dream,” he’s been telling his gullible fol­low­ers. But now, the Congress-led Gov­ern­ment in Delhi, per­haps des­per­ately in need of a ‘happy end­ing’ to its worst term in of­fice, has ac­tu­ally de­ployed the coun­try’s top sci­en­tists on a bizarre pur­suit of the sadhu’s day­dream.

On Oc­to­ber 6, GSI’s Di­rec­tor Gen­eral A. Sun­dara­murthy in­formed Din­sha Pa­tel that pre­lim­i­nary ex­plo­rations con­ducted by a team of geo­ph­ysists were “in­dica­tive of pos­si­ble gold, sil­ver or some al­loys”. But se­nior sci­en­tists as­so­ci­ated with the gold quest are aghast at the man­ner in which the Gov­ern­ment has forced both GSI and the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia ( ASI) to em­bark on the ven­ture in com­plete con­tra­ven­tion of all known sci­en­tific norms. One of­fi­cer as­so­ci­ated with the sur­vey in­sists the re­port sent to the min­istry made no in­fer­ence on the pos­si­ble pres­ence of gold. “This was ob­vi­ously in­serted at our head­quar­ters in Kolkata to please some­one big who is des­per­ate to see this through.”

A day be­fore Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter and BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Naren­dra Modi ar­rived in Kan­pur on Oc­to­ber 19 to ad­dress his in­au­gu­ral rally in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Gen­eral Elec­tions in 2014, a dozen ASI of­fi­cers headed by Ad­di­tional Superintending Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Indu Prakash be­gan the mega task of ex­ca­vat­ing the myth­i­cal trea­sure. A team of eight se­nior GSI sci­en­tists was also at hand. Modi was un­happy at hav­ing to share the lime­light. On Oc­to­ber 18 in Chen­nai, he had pub­licly de­rided the UPA gov­ern­ment and the seer.

The week since wit­nessed a whacky re­play of the 2010 film Peepli [Live]. Twenty tele­vi­sion crews jos­tle for a piece of the ac­tion and 140 Pro­vin­cial Armed Con­stab­u­lary and state po­lice­men zeal­ously guard the op­er­a­tion be­hind bam­boo-and-rope bar­ri­cades. A ‘pave­ment’ bazaar has sprung up along the kachcha road lead­ing up to the old Shiv tem­ple built by Ram Baksh Singh.

In his ashram 3 km from the dig, the saf­fron-clad god­man, who re­fuses to be pho­tographed, beams at what he has in­sti­gated. “Arre babu jao, ab to aaram karne do (go away, now let me rest at least),” he waves away re­porters crowd­ing around him. “There is so much gold here that Bharat sarkar will have to call in he­li­copters to carry it away,” he brags. His bois­ter­ous num­ber two, Swami Om, in­sists the ex­ca­va­tion is much too slow. “Give us eight hours with a JCB (earth­mover) and we will give you gold,” he says, throw­ing in a gen­er­ous mix of Hindi ex­ple­tives for ef­fect.

Un­nerved by the spec­ta­cle on live TV and con­dem­na­tion of its de­ci­sion to base a sci­en­tific ex­plo­ration on a dream, the UPA Gov­ern­ment in­sisted “the ex­ca­va­tion was be­ing done af­ter a re­port from the Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia”. The Gov­ern­ment in­sisted that GSI had sounded the pos­si­bil­ity of “gold, sil­ver or other non­mag­netic al­loy.” A state­ment, cited by Congress spokesper­son Renuka Chowdhury and Union Cul­ture Min­is­ter Chan­dresh Ku­mari Ka­toch, also claimed that ge­ol­o­gists con­ducted a Ground-Pen­e­trat­ing Radar Sur­vey ( GPRS).

GSI of­fi­cials in Lucknow are com­pletely mys­ti­fied by Delhi’s per­sis­tence in try­ing to prove Sarkar cor­rect. “Lucknow does not even pos­sess a GPR in­stru­ment that would be ca­pa­ble of sens­ing any­thing more than a me­tre un­der­ground,” an of­fi­cer told IN­DIA TO­DAY on Oc­to­ber 23. Ac­cord­ing to him the sur­vey con­ducted at Dhaun­diya Kheda only used the rudi­men­tary, In­duced Po­lar­i­sa­tion Po­ten­tiome­ter, which is in­ad­e­quate to ini­ti­ate a dig.

Fur­ther be­ly­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s claims, the Septem­ber 29 let­ter to the GSI’s Lucknow of­fice, stated that the ex­plo­ration was be­ing or­dered on the ba­sis of the ex­change be­tween Shob­han Sarkar and Mahant on Septem­ber 29. It also men­tions that the min­is­ter’s wife and his per­sonal sec­re­tary, Vivek Ku­mar Di­wan­gan, were present at the meet­ing, an of­fi­cial said.

And it doesn’t seem to be stop­ping at Dhaun­diya Kheda. Sarkar, it ap­pears, is quite a dreamer. There’s more gold, he says. On Oc­to­ber 17, a meet­ing of GSI’s heads of de­part­ments at Delhi was in­ter­rupted by yet another let­ter, cit­ing again the seer’s vi­sion about three more lo­ca­tions for buried gold. Din­sha Pa­tel now wants the sci­en­tists to con­duct ex­ploratory sur­veys at Kan­pur’s Pa­rade Area, Chaubepur

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