Statues Across India Are Vandalized as Political Tensions Rise

The opposition parties say the backers of B.J.P. and its allies foster a climate of intolerance and target other Hindus that oppose them, as well as religious minorities such as Muslims.

But the B.J.P., which says the party is inclusive, denied its supporters were behind the attacks and dismissed the accusations as part of a political smear campaign. It noted that someone had taken a hammer to a bust of its own founder.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who heads the B.J.P.-led government, issued a strong condemnation on Wednesday of the vandalism, promising swift retribution against the vandals, no matter their affiliation.

But the vandalism appeared to be aimed mostly at figures who are important to Dalits, whom some B.J.P. supporters disdain. Discrimination, although forbidden by law, is widespread in India’s stratified society.

On Wednesday morning, district officials in Meerut discovered a statue of B.R. Ambedkar in pieces. The Dalits revere Mr. Ambedkar for enshrining their rights in the Indian Constitution.

Officials, hoping to avert anger from the local Dalits, moved within hours to replace the statue, erecting a new one so hastily that most of the fingernails chiseled into the hand clutching India’s Constitution were missing. The ears were rendered as blocklike ovals on either side of the head.

“He’s like our god,” said Kapil Kumar, 25, who helped replace the statue. “What we have today is because of him. Whatever respect and chances in life we have, is because of him.”


In Kolkata, India, supporters of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party poured milk on a bust of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the party, during a protest against the vandalization of another Mookerjee statue in the city.

Bikas Das/Associated Press

The violence began in the town of Belonia in Tripura state, after the B.J.P. swept local elections, ending more than two decades of Communist control. The Tripura branch of the Communist Party of India says B.J.P. supporters had celebrated their victory by ransacking and burning the party’s offices.

Then, on Monday, a crowd chanting B.J.P. slogans surrounded a statue of Lenin in Belonia, in the state of Tripura. Using a construction vehicle with a hydraulic jackhammer they destroyed the monument — an episode captured on a cellphone camera and shared widely.

“Victory to mother India,” protesters can be heard chanting on the video.

Victor Shome, the media officer for B.J.P. in Tripura, said the Communists had destroyed the statue. “We are a responsible party,” Mr. Shome said on Friday. “With the help of the local administration, we are looking seriously into this incident to see how it happened.”

The Communists claim otherwise. “The statue’s destruction was symbolic of the victory of the right over the left,” said Tapas Datta, the secretary for the local Communist Party branch in Belonia.

Belonia’s police say B.J.P. celebrations got out of hand, but did not explicitly blame the party.

“It seemed some criminal elements took over a bulldozer, parked on the side of the street,” said Manchak Ipper, the superintendent of the police in the south Tripura district, which includes Belonia.

“They forced the driver to bring down the statue,” Mr. Ipper said by telephone. “I would say it was overenthusiasm.”

But the vandalism spread across India.

On Wednesday, residents of Kolkata found the damaged bust of the B.J.P. founder, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a hammer taken to the eyes and the face blackened with paint.

On Thursday, the glasses on the giant statue of Gandhi in Kerala were broken. Mr. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a member of the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was outlawed after the assassination for a period but is active today and allied with the B.J.P.

In Meerut on Friday, the Dalits were seething, blaming upper-caste Tyagis for defacing Mr. Ambedkar’s statue. The Tyagis are jealous and angry, they say, about the Dalits’ progression. Mr. Ambedkar was a founding father of postcolonial India and helped elevate Dalits socially, economically and politically, moving the community away from their more commonly known moniker, “the untouchables.”

Dalit groups in Meerut are promising to replace the statue with an even bigger one, double the height of the current rendering.

But several villagers from the Tyagis caste have accused the Dalits of destroying the statue themselves in order to rally their voters in coming by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, which includes Meerut.

Mr. Kumar expects the tensions to worsen.

“In the future, this won’t calm down. Tensions will go up. The Tyagis try to suppress us. They don’t like our progress. They don’t like our politics,” Mr. Kumar said. “To the Tyagis, we are all still ‘untouchables.’ ”

The opposition parties, meanwhile, say that the proof of B.J.P.’s culpability lies in the calls on Tuesday from the party’s leader, H. Raja, for supporters to destroy a statue of an activist admired by lower castes, Periyar Ramasamy, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Hours later, the statue was defaced.

Mr. Raja said the call to action — published on his Facebook page — had been an administrator’s error, and the post has been deleted.

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