News Analysis | BJD on temple development spree in Odisha

Move is widely seen as bid to beat BJP at its own game 

Published - May 21, 2022 02:00 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Naveen Patnaik. File

Naveen Patnaik. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Unfazed by controversies over the vicinity development of the Jagannath Temple in Puri and the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar, the Naveen Patnaik government has continued to pump in massive funds for the facelift of Hindu religious places across Odisha, a move widely perceived as beating the BJP at its own game.

Mr. Patnaik inaugurated the newly developed Tara Tarini Temple on the bank of Rushikulya River in his home district of Ganjam on May 18, the fifth and concluding day of special pujas.

Redeveloped at an estimated expenditure of ₹115 crore, the ancient temple has been given several tourist amenities such as drinking water facility, restrooms, state-of-the-art lighting systems and new roads and ropeway.

Speaker Surjya Narayan Patro and Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Keshari Arukha and a group of MLAs accompanied the Chief Minister to the place.

“Odisha is the land of gods. The tradition of Shakti Puja in Odisha is very old. In the villages of Odisha, worshipping of deities has been going on since time immemorial,” said Mr. Patnaik.

On his return to the State capital, the Odisha CM did not waste time in approving the development of the Chandi Temple in Cuttack at an estimated expenditure of ₹70 crore.

The project is part of ‘Integrated development of heritage, monuments and tourist destinations’ being taken up by the 5T (Transparency, technology, teamwork, time and transformation) Department helmed by V. K. Pandian, the CM’s trusted lieutenant.

On April 27, Mr. Patnaik gave the go-ahead for the ₹100-crore development of Nilamadhav Temple, Kantilo in Cuttack district. The Nilamadhav temple, Rahasbihari Mandap, Raghunath Mutt and Batamangala Temple will also be developed.

A day before, on April 26, Mr. Pandian visited the Sarala Temple in Jagatsinghpur district and reviewed the scope of development around the temple. In all likelihood, the government may announce a temple development project running into crores of rupees.

At present, the State government has directed the expedition of the estimated ₹200-crore Samaleswari Temple development in Sambalpur district. Simultaneous temple facelifts have been undertaken in Mayurbhanj, Puri and Khordha districts. According to a senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader, at least one temple of each district would be taken up for redevelopment.

Setbacks to projects

The BJD government-led by Mr. Patnaik, however, experienced setbacks to its flagship projects – the 12th-century Jagannath Temple, Puri, and the 11th-century Lingaraj Temple.

The ₹800-crore Shree Mandir Parikrama Project at Puri and ₹700-crore peripheral redevelopment of Lingaraj Temple had run into controversies when the BJD government was criticised that it was trampling on archaeological treasures in its unyielding resolve to give facelifts to temples.

Work around the Lingaraj Temple almost stopped after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stumbled upon ancient temple structures below the land identified for redevelopment around the 900-year-old temple.

When massive pillars were erected barely a few feet away from Jagannath Temple, Puri, experts and political leaders expressed fears about its possible impact on the main temple. After a public interest litigation plea was filed in the Orissa High Court, the ASI informed the court that the State government had not obtained the requisite permission for construction, which falls within 100 metres of the no-development zone of Puri temple.

In both the cases, the ASI, the Central agency and custodian of monuments, was seen laying roadblocks in the development. In fact, there was a growing suspicion within the rank and file of the regional party that the BJP was waging a shadow fight by bringing the ASI to the fore.

In the national political scenario, the BJP is perceived way ahead of other parties in competitive temple politics. The BJP-led NDA is now basking in glory for the ongoing construction of Ayodhya Temple and completion of the Kashi-Viswanath Corridor project. The BJD grumbles that when such projects of massive scale did not face ASI hurdles, why the two projects in Odisha alone were entangled in restrictive monument laws.

However, the regional party is in no mood to give leverage to the saffron party. It is seen that the BJD has started hijacking the Hindutva model of the BJP.

The BJP has found itself on a sticky wicket. The party does want to be seen as blocking temple development projects and at the same time it cannot let the BJD run way with credit for temple development, which has been its forte.

While the State unit of the BJP is maintaining a studied silence over the allegation of the Naveen Patnaik government steamrolling laws to redevelop temples, Bhubaneswar MP and national spokesperson Aparajita Sarangi and her colleague Sambit Patra are at the forefront of criticising temple projects. Political observers said the BJP, through the two leaders, were testing the waters.

The Odisha BJP had only announced the ‘Save Jagannath Temple’ campaign on social media. Sri Mandira Surakshya Abhijan, an organisation having links with the Sangh Parivar, had said it would move the Supreme Court with a plea to stop construction in Puri.

Meanwhile, Jayanta Sarangi, BJP MLA of Puri, has broken the ranks and insisted on the expeditious completion of Puri project.  

Despite the Orissa High Court hearing a public interest litigation plea and the ASI submitting a damaging report, the controversial construction around Jagannath Temple is going on. The Naveen Patnaik government announced it would change its detailed project report to address ASI reservations, but it would not deviate from its redevelopment plan.

The BJD leadership has realised that its ‘womb-to-tomb’ welfare programmes and woman empowerment drive would be difficult to be matched, yet the BJP could make inroads into the political space by whipping up religious issues. By undertaking massive temple development projects, the regional party has apparently blocked this possibility too.  

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