ASI Gold Rush’ of Dandia Kheda

After the ‘Gold Rush’: the questions that remain – Preeta Bhattacharya, Titas Chakraborty, Suchetana Chattopadhyay

Recently the Archaeological
Survey of India initiated a Gold Rush of sorts. 
The excavation undertaken at the
Dandia Kheda Village in Unnao District of Uttar Pradesh again raises question
on this institution’s integrity and credibility. Inspired by the dream of a
Godman the ASI was convinced a thousand ton gold was buried underneath a temple
within the precinct of Raja Ram Bux Singh’s Fort. The ‘sadhu’ had claimed, if
found, the gold will wipe out the poverty of India. With his blessings, the ASI
started digging. Huge crowds gathered. Countrywide mass excitement was fuelled
by irresponsible comments floating from the mouths of Central Ministers, the
Chief Minister of UP and sensationalist media coverage. After ten days, the ASI
decided to suspend the excavation and abandon the site. It had found iron tools
and pot-shards. Not an ounce of gold was spotted.

 Any excavation in the country requires the
submission of a detailed plan before the ASI and the official stamp of its
approval. The ASI follows certain strict guidelines, fixed by its top
officials, before it embarks on excavations or authorizes other bodies to do
so. Apparently, the rules could not be applied to a case of ‘divine

 This brings to mind the official report which
the ASI had prepared after the Saffron Brigade demolished the Babri Masjid in
1992. The report brought the professional expertise and ideological orientation
of the ASI into question. Historians and archaeologists accused the institution
of distorting, misrepresenting and ignoring hard facts on the ground. The
controversial report was placed before the Allahabad High Court in 2003 as
‘evidence’, strengthening the hands of the Hindutva forces.

Ten years down the line, the ASI
has once again proved how enamored the institution is with the strategies of
the Hindutva forces. It is baffling why a professional and public institution
such as the ASI would intervene into the matter with such remarkable
enthusiasm. What made the Dandiakheda excavation merit such immediate attention
over and above all other ongoing or proposed archaeological excavations in the
country? In the last ten years ASI has appalled many with its neglect in
preserving important excavation sites and monuments. The lack of interest in
medieval and early colonial monuments is most conspicuous.

Should not the ASI and the
government of India be made answerable to the democratic people of the country for
this frivolous act? The ASI should reveal the real motive behind this
excavation. On whose orders from South Block, New Delhi did the ASI feel that
it was incumbent to act? What was the exact amount of public money that has
been squandered in this undertaking? There is not an iota of doubt that the
region is an important site of archaeological interest. In fact, Dandiakheda
finds specific mention in Seventh Century Chinese texts. The ASI must clearly
give an account of the artefacts that have been found from this excavation and
what historical information can be elicited from them. Are iron tools and pot
shards so insignificant archaeologically that the ASI had to abruptly stop the
excavation after kick-starting the project with much fanfare?
The neo-liberal reforms initiated
by the present regime have ushered in a period of extreme social insecurity.
With the Lok Sabha elections in sight, one might assume that the Dandiakheda
excavation was a desperate bid by the present regime to garner cheap popularity.
By invoking soft line Hindutva sentiments is the government trying to compete
with Narendra Modi and the bandwagon of hard line fascists? The homeless
victims of the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar are watching this morbid and
farcical spectacle. And so are we.

*The authors
are historians based in University of Calcutta, University of Pittsburgh and
Jadavpur University respectively. This statement is endorsed by Vikalp’s
editorial team.