Days after a multi-crore memorial of former president A P J Abdul Kalam was inaugurated on the occasion of his second death anniversary in Tamil Nadu, an engraved ‘Bhagavad Gita’ near his wooden statue, inside the memorial, raked up a controversy. A wooden copy of the Gita has been sculpted along with the statue and has drawn opposition from various quarters. On July 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated the Rs 15 crore memorial and also unveiled the statue of Kalam playing the musical instrument ‘veena’ at Peikarambu in Rameswaram. The former president was adept at playing the musical instrument.
An MDMK spokesperson said party founder Vaiko had already questioned the need for a Gita there, when Kalam had, even in international fora, referred only from the Thirukkural. A PMK leader, on conditions of anonymity, also questioned the presence of the holy book, saying Kalam was common to all citizens of India.
To douse the fire of controversy, his family placed a copy of the Quran and Bible near the Gita. His relatives said Kalam was a leader to all Indians and no one should seek to politicise the episode. Sheik Dawood and Salim, his relatives, said, “An unnecessary controversy was raised by some people. DRDO officials worked tirelessly for the memorial construction and had not sculpted the Bhagavad Gita near the statue with any (ill) intention. Now we have left two books — Quran and Bible near the statue.” They added that they would also place a copy of Tamil treatise Thirukkural near it soon.
However, leader of a local Hindu outfit objected to the placing of Quran and Bible near the statue on the ground that “no permission was taken” for the same. Hours later, officials manning the memorial kept the Bible and Quran in a glass box in the vicinity of the statue. Hindu Makkal Katchi leader K Prabhakaran filed a police complaint claiming that the two holy books (of Quran and Bible) were placed without permission from authorities. “I respect all these books. But keeping them (in the memorial) without permission is wrong. Steps should be taken to see that such things are not done again,” he told reporters.
The memorial also houses Kalam’s ‘samadhi’, built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), where the “People’s President” worked for decades, and other central government departments. The memorial has on display replicas of rockets and missiles on which the late scientist had worked. It has been built at a cost of Rs 15 crore on land allotted by the Tamil Nadu government. The memorial also has about 900 paintings and 200 rare photographs of the late scientist, who held the office of the president from 2002 to 2007.
A bronze statue of Kalam has also been erected at the memorial, the entrance of which has been designed in the style of the India Gate in New Delhi. The rear portion of the memorial has been modelled after the Rashtrapati Bhavan. A model of ‘Agni’ missile has also been positioned in front of the memorial. With ‘unity in diversity’ as its theme, the memorial features quotes of Kalam and pictures of him as a scientist and the president of India.