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Odisha govt continues its flipflop ahead of SC hearing on review petition seeking modification on stay of Rath Yatra

A brief summary of the events leading to the hearing of review petitions ahead of Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra.

After the 18th June Supreme Court order stopping centuries old Rath Yatra (or as we call it Ratha Jatra) in Puri, amidst ongoing pandemic, 4 review petitions have been listed for Monday hearing to reconsider the decision. Meanwhile, state government has changed its positions faster than players change shuttlecocks in a Men’s doubles Badminton match.

Here is a brief summary of events so far. After the MHA order on 7th May asking state government to decide on the fate of Rath Yatra, State government allowed chariot construction to begin and other Rath Yatra related rituals to go on. On 11th May, a previously unheard NGO, Odisha Vikas Parishad, filed a petition to stop Rath Yatra as the pandemic situation was still on rise. SC took up for hearing on 18th. Both GoI and GoO were respondents. GoI, through SG Tushar Mehta pleaded to allow some rituals. GoO, however, took a completely different stance.

SC – What is your position?
GoO – There will be a gathering of 10-12 lakhs people. It’s dangerous to allow such a large congregation.
SC- We agree. No Rath Yatra then.

After the court order, GoO convened a cabinet meeting on the same evening at 7:30 PM, in which they decided to abide by the court order.

The state erupted. People protested against this decision. Hashtags trended all over social media. Initially, some organized campaigns tried to counter and present the government stand, “It’s the court order. We have no option but to abide. It’s taken for everyone’s well being”. However, such organized campaigns could not withstand the organic outpouring. People all over the nation urged GoO to fix their blunder and allow Rath Yatra. Meanwhile, state BJP tagged along BJD and parroted the same tune. Many leaders gave statements on record supporting GoO’s stand.

It is not that both parties didn’t know what is coming. But they didn’t expect people to see through their duplicity. They really thought that they can ride this tide by making SC the proverbial scapegoat. But that was not to happen.

In the meantime, 8 review petitions were filed out of which, four are listed for Monday hearing.

The Review Petitions on Rath Yatra Listed For Monday Hearing

King of Puri, Gajapati Dibya Singh Deb, who by record of rights is the chief servitor of Prabhu Jagannatha, wrote a letter to CM asking him to intervene and reconsider the decision. He also mentioned that the original plan was to shut down Puri and allow only selected servitors to conduct the Jatra. Why then government never presented these facts to SC. The letter got widespread support. The servitors also expressed their deep anguish. Sensing that the matter is getting out of hands, both parties went into damage control mode. BJP “appealed” the CM to take note of King’s letter.

Sambit Patra, BJP’s MP candidate for Puri, has also filed a review petition. What is astonishing is, Puri’s current MP, BJD’s Pinaki Mishra, who also happens to be a very senior counsel in the SC, is completely mum on this matter.

GoO in a smart move clarified that, the 10-12 lakh congregation was about Rath Yatras that would have been conducted all over the state. After Puri king’s clarification, state government will take favourable action in SC, when the matter comes for hearing. Read it as an affirmative stance by GoO. This is really laughable as the initial affidavit was about Rath Yatra in Puri only. GoO, being administrative head of the state, could have stopped it elsewhere by an executive order.

Now that there is a glimmer of hope of things turning around, do not allow any political party or government to take credit. Remember, one of them tried to sabotage and the other was hand-in-glove. As we say in Odia, “Bhakta ra Bhagaban“, God belongs to the devotee. If at all we have a favourable order, it’s the unflinching devotion of crores of devotees, it’s the Maharanas who pulled double shifts and worked in scorching Sun to finish the Ratha in time, it’s the chitrakaras who finished the wood carvings and Chanduas (appliques) burning midnight oil, it’s the daitapatis who carried out the daily rituals despite the hostile orders and last but not the least, it’s Him. Jagata ra Natha, Jagannatha, Lord of the Universe.

Jai Jagannatha.

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