As a bust of Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee was vandalised in Kolkata Wednesday, allegedly by Left supporters in response to the razing of a Lenin statue by BJP supporters in Tripura, and a Periyar statue was attacked in Tamil Nadu Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped in to condemn the acts of vandalism and directed that strict action be taken against those responsible.
Worried over the political fallout and aware that such acts were “taking the sheen off” its spectacular victory in Tripura — the swearing-in of the new government is likely Friday — the BJP leadership too initiated a damage-control exercise, warning state units and instructing them to take immediate measures in the wake of the acts of vandalism and the damaging public utterances of some party leaders.
BJP sources said both Modi and Shah were “furious” over the developments, given that these incidents took place after the Prime Minister had hailed the BJP’s victory in the Left bastion of Tripura as a win over the “politics of violence”.
Shah, sources said, took strong exception to remarks made by BJP national secretary H Raja in which he suggested that statues of Periyar, founder of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, could be pulled down — hours after Raja’s Facebook post, a Periyar statue was vandalised in Vellore and two men arrested. Asked if he would take action against Raja, Shah told The Indian Express: “No, there will not be any action against him.”
But BJP leaders said the incidents, as well as the statements, have “not only taken the sheen off the BJP’s spectacular victories in the north-eastern states including Tripura” but have the “potential to spoil the party’s electoral efforts in the southern states”. In Tamil Nadu, where the party has been exploring ways to expand its base by finding a strong ally and wooing backward communities, an attack on Periyar could cost them dear, a senior party leader said.
With the Prime Minister asking Home Minister Rajnath Singh to intervene and Shah publicly condemning the desecration of statues of Lenin and Periyar, Raja deleted his Facebook post, claiming that a “Facebook admin” had put up the post. “Views should be confronted by views only and not by violence. I have no intention of hurting anybody. Therefore, if anybody felt hurt by that post, I express my heartfelt regret,” he said. “It is not acceptable to us to damage any statue of Periyar,” he said.
Earlier, Shah, in a series of tweets, condemned the desecration of statues. “As a party, we in the BJP believe that a wide range of ideas and ideologies can coexist in India. This is exactly how the makers of our Constitution envisioned our great nation to be. India’s diversity and the vibrant spirit of debate and discussion is what strengthens us,” Shah tweeted. Calling the developments unfortunate, Shah said his party did not support “the bringing down of anybody’s statue”. He said he has spoken to BJP units in Tamil Nadu and Tripura. “Any person associated with BJP, found to be involved with destroying any statue, will face severe action from the party,” he said.
As a party, we in the BJP believe that a wide range of ideas and ideologies can coexist in India. This is exactly how the makers of our Constitution envisioned our great nation to be.
India’s diversity and the vibrant spirit of debate and discussion is what strengthens us.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) March 7, 2018
Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the damage to the statue of Periyar in Tamil Nadu was an insult to the entire country, especially the poor. “In a democracy, there are people who believe in all kinds of ideologies. There is no tolerance in the BJP,” he told reporters outside Parliament.
TMC MP Derek O’Brien said: “It is an absolute shame. In 2011, even we won the elections in Bengal. We do not endorse the philosophy of Communists like Lenin, but you have to win political battles. This is like third class, but this is to be expected from this government.”
Meanwhile, the Centre issued two advisory to states and Union Territories over the desecration of statues. In a stern warning, the Union Home Ministry said district magistrates (DMs) and superintendents of police (SPs) will be “‘personally responsible” for such incidents of vandalism.
Earlier, Modi spoke to Rajnath Singh. A PIB statement said “the PM strongly condemned the reported incidents of vandalism in certain parts of country and said stern action will be taken against those found guilty”. “State governments and Union Territories were told to ensure that DMs and SPs take all possible action to control the law and order situation in their areas of jurisdiction. They were advised to monitor the situation closely and take stringent action like arrests, prompt investigation and prosecution of the accused,” according to the Home Ministry advisory.
Late Tuesday night, Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy, in a tweet, had said, “Fundamental questions coming up. We removed George V from India Gate, New Delhi, Queen Victoria from front of her memorial in Kolkata, renamed Aurangzeb Road, all by government fiats. What if the government similarly decides to remove Lenin’s statue, rename Lenin Sarani? Any answers?’’