Daundiya Kheda Live

He has a dream, and it could shrink India's current account deficit in a trice. A sadhu from Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh, Shobhan Sarkar, has sent the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on a gold rush with the promise of 1,000 tonnes of the metal lying fallow in the remains of a fort in Daundiya Kheda village, like an innocent answer to the finance minister's prayers. True, there is not much to go on for the archaeologists on this dig apart from Sarkar's dream, in which a 19th-century ruler of the region "revealed" the existence of the treasure to him. No preliminary excavations, no historical record, just the glitter gleaned from the REM of a seer.

Sarkar might have been laughed out of the room if he had approached the ASI first, but he did the smart thing, approaching Union minister Charan Das Mahant, who was convinced — less by the evidence, perhaps, than the utter convenience of the spectacle of a treasure hunt in these trying times. Before the excavations began, the Uttar Pradesh government too sent an emissary to the sadhu, pitching for first preference — and a lion's share of the funds — for the state and its development. He went back with the assurance that there was enough for the economic transformation of the entire state. The media circus has reached the village, and Daundiya Kheda now has its own Peepli Live — and doesn't that have its own multiplier effect? It also has a list of its own demands, which includes, unimaginatively for a village so touched by miracle, "a government job to one member of every family".

In this pleasant anticipation of imminent wealth — for village, state and nation — perhaps it is only kill-joys who will blame the ASI for shortchanging scientific rigour on the whims of politicians. Even if all that glitters is a sadhu's ambitions, this could go down as a case of unforgettable freakonomics, India-style.

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