What should India, rising but still plagued by poverty, do with a newly discovered treasure of gold coins, statues and jewels in the vault of a Hindu temple, valued at some $22 billion?
Suggestions are pouring in from across the country and the world. Some say it should be used to establish universities and colleges. The man who brought the court case that resulted in the unveiling wants it handed over to the Kerala state government. Others want a subway system.
But here in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala formerly known as Trivandrum, many people — including the state’s top elected official, Hindus and the royal family that once ruled this part of India and still oversees the temple — argue that the treasure should remain, largely untouched, at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple where it has been housed for centuries.
Their attitude partly reflects a suspicion that public officials entrusted with large sums of money will pocket much of it and mismanage the rest. Recent scandals, including one involving telecom licenses that cost the government an estimated $40 billion, have reinforced that cynicism.
(That scandal has already sent one former minister to jail; on Thursday, another former telecom minister, Dayanidhi Maran, offered to quit the national cabinet in light of allegations that he used his position to benefit companies owned by his family.)
Unlike in much of India, where royal families have used their kingdoms’ assets to build luxuriant palaces, here the royal family has had a reputation for living modestly and for its devotion to the Hindu god Vishnu, known here as Padmanabhaswamy.
“They should just measure its value,” said Krishna Kumar, a coconut oil producer who came to pray at the temple this week. “And then they should leave it here. The royal family will protect it.”
Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s chief minister, echoed that sentiment. Even though his idyllic coastal state has a debt of $16 billion and wants to build a subway system in its largest metropolitan area of Kochi, he said the state would not seek to seize the treasure. Rather, the state is digging into its own pockets to secure the temple with dozens of police and commando officers and is planning to install a high-tech surveillance system.
“This wealth belongs to the temple,” Mr. Chandy said. “Sri Padmanabhaswamy is a symbol of the Kerala culture. The government will not agree with the view that this belongs to the state.”