Sectarian row erupts over statue at Kalam memorial

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The wooden statue of former president APJ Abdul Kalam at the memorial dedicated to him in Rameswaram on Sunday. Photo: The Indian Express

Former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam’s family tried to end a sectarian controversy on the weekend by placing a Quran and a Bible in front of the late leader’s statue at the new memorial dedicated to him in Tamil Nadu, PTI reported. However, following protests by a fringe Hindu group, the two texts were removed.

Kalam’s memorial, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 27 in Rameswaram, features a statue of the former president playing the veena, a musical instrument, with a wooden sculpture of the 700-year-old Hindu classic Bhagavad Gita on a stand in front of him. 

Kalam’s relatives said he was a leader to all Indians and they placed the Quran and the Bible beside the Bhagavad Gita as a symbol of inclusiveness and sectarian harmony.  The family 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.”

Vaiko, leader of the local political outfit MDMK, questioned the need for the Bhagavad Gita itself to be present, claiming that the late president quoted only from Thirukkural, a Tamil classic consisting of 1,330 kurals (couplets).

According to  PTI, Hindu Makkal Katchi leader K Prabhakaran filed a police complaint stating that “no permission was taken” for the non-Hindu texts to be placed in front of the statue. He was quoted as saying, “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.”

Meanwhile, NDTV quoted Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan as saying, “Kalam loved all religions. I don’t understand how they make Kalam a subject of debate.”

Built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation at a cost of Rs20 crore (US$31,000), the memorial reflects various events in Dr Kalam’ s life, including the Pokhran nuclear test, and features a missile model to mark his contribution to space science.

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