ALL FOR THE BEST
In the world of politics and governance, some decisions are plain black-and-white, some conveniently grey, and then there are an inevitable few that can be incredibly difficult to make, leaving the brightest of minds scratching their heads and testing the mettle of even the most seasoned leaders.
The question of conducting the Ratha Jatra, a much-beloved, centuries-old religious tradition, in Puri amidst unarguably the worst pandemic to hit humanity in the past hundred years clearly belonged to the third category.
Much of the media’s attention during the clamorous and chaotic lead-up to the big occasion was on raging debates centered around whether the festival should be held at all or cancelled this year in view of prevailing circumstances.
And once the Supreme Court gave its conditional approval in its final judgement on the eve of the event, certain sections of media shifted their focus to how the event had become a political football between the Centre and the state government as critics fretted and speculated about the possible workings behind the apex court’s U-turn.
Fair enough, some would say – but not in my book.
Virtually all of these ever-watchful, over-analytical political experts and observers, failed to notice (or chose to overlook)something rather important: How the Odisha government had meticulously laid the groundwork in the holy city over the past couple of months so as to be completely ready for whichever side the dice rolled ahead of the Car Festival.
The fear mongering rabble-rousers were quick to question the intentions of the Naveen Patnaik administration right from the time of construction of Lord Jagannath’s chariots up until the clearing of the make-shift shops along the Bada Danda (Grand Road) in the holy city.
But they did not acknowledge, let alone appreciate, the sense behind it all even after our government managed to ensure that one of the biggest religious events in the world was smoothly and successfully held.
Let’s not forget that the Supreme Court’s final go-ahead came at the eleventh hour – during the afternoon of June 22, barely half a day prior to the commencement of the core rituals of the festival.
Yet, by the morning of the next day, everything was sorted: the curfew had been firmly imposed in Puri, the city was effectively sealed with a blanket ban on outsiders into its precincts, and hundreds of servitors had been screened for coronavirus before being selected to participate in the procession – all in keeping with the conditions imposed by the Supreme Court as well as the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the central and state government.
While there has been no known spike in corona cases as a consequence of the June 23 event, as some doomsayers had predicted with unbridled conviction, the Naveen Patnaik government has remained as proactive as ever in its preparations and preparedness ahead of the festival’s remaining events – comprising the Lords’ return journey– next month.
In a democracy as populous, dynamic, and diverse as ours, and with a people as deeply religious as us, this is the best any government could have possibly done.