The PM also spoke to Union home minister Rajnath Singh over the issue and expressed his strong disapproval of such incidents.
New Delhi: After registering an “ideological victory” in Tripura, which was under Communist rule for 25 years, the BJP on Wednesday had to assert that it believed “a wide range of ideas and ideologies can coexist in India” after incidents of statue vandalism, which began in Tripura on Monday, came too close to home on Wednesday. In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned incidents of vandalism of statues and warned of stern action against those found guilty. The PM also spoke to Union home minister Rajnath Singh over the issue and expressed his strong disapproval of such incidents.
The home ministry reached out to state governments saying they “must take all necessary measures” to prevent such incidents and that district magistrates and superintendents of police will be held personally responsible for such incidents. On Monday, two days after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Tripura elections with two-thirds majority, ending the 25-year-old rule of the Left in the state, the first incident of vandalism was reported. In Belonia, South Tripura, a statue of Vladimir Lenin was destroyed by some people chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. The next day, a statue of E.V. Ramasamy ‘Periyar’, social reformer and founder of Dravidian movement, was vandalised in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district.
And on Wednesday, a bust of Parivar ideologue Syama Prasad Mookherjee was desecrated in West Bengal, and in Meerut, UP, miscreants vandalised B.R. Ambedkar’s statue which led to protests and deployment of police force. The protests ended only after the district officials assured that the statue would be replaced at the earliest. As Opposition parties lashed out at the ruling BJP saying vandalising statues is a “reflection of a new kind of politics” and that “hatred and division” is the “face of the BJP,” BJP president Amit Shah termed the desecration of Communist icon Lenin’s statue in Tripura and Dravidian icon Periyar’s in Tamil Nadu as “extremely unfortunate”.
Condemning the incidents, Mr Shah distanced the saffron party from the vandalism, but also said that no action will be taken against BJP national secretary H. Raja, whose social media post was blamed for the desecration of Periyar’s statue in Vellore.
In a series of tweets, Mr Shah asserted that any person associated with the BJP found to be involved with destroying any statue will face severe action from the party.
“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... The BJP will always remain committed to ideals of openness and constructive politics through which we can positively impact people’s lives as well as build a New India,” Mr Shah tweeted.
On his part, Mr Raja deleted the controversial post and issued a clarification saying it was published “without his permission”, and the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP expelled a party worker who was arrested on Tuesday for damaging Periyar’s bust. But it wasn’t enough to pacify Dravidians.
In what was seen as a retaliatory action, a petrol bomb was thrown at a BJP office in Coimbatore. After realising the repercussion of his post, Mr Raja asserted, “We should contest ideas with ideas, not with violence. It was not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings or sentiments. And if it did, I regret.”
According to a senior home ministry official, Mr Singh spoke to Tripura governor Tathagata Roy after he appeared to justify the toppling of Lenin’s statue in Tripura. “What one democratically elected government can do another democratically elected government can undo. And vice versa,” the governor had tweeted.
Later on Tuesday, Mr Roy tweeted, “I am advised that pulling down statues (Lenin’s or anyone else’s) unless done by lawfully empowered authorities, qualify as ‘Mischief’ under Indian Penal Code. They are bailable and non-cognizable offences. Trying to blow them up to something like rioting or murder is unwarranted.”
In Kolkata, in what was seen as retaliation to vandalism of statues of non-Sangh Parivar ideologues, members of an ultra-Left student outfit vandalised and defaced a statue of BJP ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerrjee on Wednesday.
Police arrested six members of the “Radical,” believed to be a pro-Maoist students body formed in Jadavpur University four years ago, over the incident at South Kolkata’s Tollygunge.
Reacting to the incidents of vandalism, the home ministry issued two separate advisories to states clearly saying that district magistrates and superintendents of police will be held personally responsible for such incidents. Mr Rajnath Singh also appealed “to everyone, all parties, that anyone indulging in such acts should be dealt with strictly. These incidents can never be justified.”
In the first advisory issued on Wednesday morning, the Centre asked the states and Union Territories to immediately check incidents of “toppling and damaging of statues” and take tough action to ensure such developments are stopped.
In the second advisory, which came within hours of the first one, the ministry further clarified, “DMs and SPs will be personally held responsible for any such incidents of vandalism of statues.”
The ministry asked the states to direct all concerned DMs and SPs to initiate all possible action to maintain law and order. It also asked that all DMs and SPs be directed to maintain strict vigil on anti-social elements, social media and rumour-mongers and immediately take action against those indulging in acts of violence or inciting violence.