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