New Delhi: The attacks on statues snowballed into a major political storm on Wednesday when busts of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar in Meerut and Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee in Kolkata were damaged, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah to speak tough against vandalism and warning the guilty of stern action.
Following the strong condemnation by BJP bigwigs and a massive political backlash in Tamil Nadu, state party leader H. Raja expressed heartfelt regrets over his Facebook post suggesting removal of the statue of Dravidian icon Periyar E.V. Ramasamy.
The BJP expelled a local functionary in Vellore district for damaging Periyar's statue in Tiruppattur on Tuesday night.
Amid fears of flare-up in political violence, the Home Ministry asked states to take strong action against those indulging in vandalism and making it clear that district magistrates and superintendents of police would be responsible in case of any law and order disturbance.
The fresh incidents of vandalism followed bulldozing of Communist hero Lenin's statue in Tripura on Monday, an act condoned by some BJP leaders. Lenin's figure was brought down after the BJP swept the elections, ending 25 years of Marxist rule in the northeast state.
The situation in parts of Tamil Nadu was tense a day after the statue of Periyar, considered the fatherfigure of the rationalist movement in Tamil Nadu, was vandalized.
The incident was provoked by BJP leader Raja's Facebook post on Tuesday in which he said: "Lenin's statue was broken down in Tripura. Today it is Lenin's statue in Tripura, tomorrow it will be the statue of caste fanatic E.V. Ramasamy."
Raja on Wednesday expressed regret for the post, claiming the message was posted by his social media administrator without his permission and that he had removed it. Street protests broke out across Tamil Nadu, including in capital Chennai, with workers of the DMK and Periyarist groups burning effigies of Raja.
Two petrol bombs were hurled outside the BJP office in Coimbatore on Wednesday morning. Two activists of Periyar organisation were arrested.
In Kolkata, members of ultra-Left student outfit "Radical" vandalised and defaced a statue of Jana Sangh founder and ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerjee at the Keoratola crematorium, police said.
The bust was defaced with black ink and deshaped with a hammer and the right side of the face damaged. Six members of the group were arrested amid condemnation from the state government.
A statue of Dalit icon Ambedkar was vandalized in Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh, police said. Senior district officials rushed to the spot and security forces were deployed in large numbers.
Prime Minister Modi strongly condemned the incidents and warned of stern action against those found guilty. He spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, expressing his strong disapproval.
"Persons indulging in such acts must be sternly dealt with and booked under relevant provisions of law," the Home Ministry said.
The Centre also told state governments to make district magistrates and police chiefs "personally" responsible for the law and order situation, investigate incidents of destruction of busts and act tough against the culprits.
Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu described as "shameful" and "mad" the acts of vandalism.
BJP President Amit Shah called the incidents "unfortunate" and warned of severe action against guilty party members.
"Any person associated with the BJP found to be involved with destroying any statue will face severe action from the party. We as a party do not support bringing down anybody's statue," he said.