India acts tough after statues vandalised in 3 states

Indian states have been told to act tough with vandals after statues or busts of leaders representing different ideologies were pulled down or desecrated in a chain reaction in three states in as many days this week.

The home ministry said district magistrates (DMs) and superintendents (SPs) of police will be held “personally responsible” for incidents of vandalism.

They were also told to ensure that police keep strict vigil on anti-social elements, social media and rumour-mongers and take strong action against anyone indulging in any kind of violence or inciting it.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the acts of vandalism and the federal government is monitoring the situation closely, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday.

In the states of Tripura and Tamil Nadu, political changes seemed to have played a role behind the acts of vandalism.

Lenin statue razed

A statue of Russia’s communist icon Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was the first to be pulled down on Monday (March 5) in Belonia town of Tripura where a communist government that was ruling the northeast state for 25 years suffered a shock defeat in assembly elections. A smaller statue of Lenin was removed the next day at Sabroom.

Communists and Trinamool Congress workers blamed the incidents on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is set to form a government in Tripura after a historic election victory.

Some BJP workers defended the bulldozing of the Lenin statue at Belonia saying they had suffered a lot under long years of communist rule.

Since the new government in Tripura is yet to be sworn in, the home minister requested the state governor to take measures to contain violence and restore order.

 Attack on Periyar statue

In Tamil Nadu down south, BJP’s national secretary H Raja was following the developments in Tripura. Commenting on it, ‘he’ wrote on social media that the statues of Tamil social activist and rationalist EVR Periyar (his statue pictured), whom Dravidian parties revere, could be the next target.

Raja later clarified that the comment made on Periyar was not his. One of party administration officials managing his social media accounts might have aired his own views, he said. It was published “without his permission”.

The comment on Periyar caused massive outrage on social media and it was taken down on Tuesday evening.

Around 9.30 pm, a BJP worker, along with his friend, vandalised a Periyar statue in Vellore. Both were taken into custody by police.

In the wee hours of Wednesday, petrol bombs were thrown at a BJP office in Coimbatore.

The day saw dramatic protests and arrests across several parts of Tamil Nadu. For the first time, rival Dravidian parties AIADMK and DMK showed rare unity in opposing BJP which found itself cornered.

Raja’s effigies were burned and there were calls for his immediate arrest.

Dravidian parties also got the support of communists and the new party, People’s Justice Front, floated by actor Kamal Hassan who has just taken his political plunge.

Another actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth is yet to announce his party but reports suggest it may be aligned with BJP. This week, Rajini spoke about his plans to deliver a pro-poor governance like the late MGR. The actor’s announcement of plans and the big setback for BJP over a party official’s comment on Periyar statue may not be a coincidence.

BJP is trying to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu and achieve a shock win like it did in Tripura this week.

Pro-Maoists hit back

In a tit for tat, members of an extreme Left students’ outfit in Bengal defaced a statue of BJP ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerjee in the state capital Kolkata on Wednesday.

Police arrested six members of Radical, a pro-Maoist students’ body in Jadavpur University, over the incident.

Around 8 am, six students, including a woman, arrived near Mookerjee’s statue adjacent to the Keoratala crematorium, and desecrated it.

The group was led by Abhisekh Mukherjee, a former student of the institution.  Students used a hammer to break the right ear and right eye of Mookerjee’s statue. One of the students defaced it with black ink.