Indian authorities have removed a copy of the Holy Quran and the Bible from a new statue of a former president after a complaint by a Hindu nationalist party, officials said Tuesday.
The removal of the books has fuelled a religious row over a carving depicting a Hindu holy book placed next to the statue of Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam at Rameswaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Kalam, who as a scientist played a leading role in India’s landmark 1998 nuclear weapons tests, was president from 2002-07 and a strongly secular figure.
The sculpted Hindu Bhagvad Gita book was placed next to the statue before it was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week on the second anniversary of Kalam’s death.
Relatives placed the Quran and the Bible next to the Gita in protest.
The move infuriated the Hindu Makka Katchi nationalist party, which said it made the complaint to police.
“The authorities removed the Bible and the Quran at the site. We are also looking at the complaint filed with us,” Superintendent Police Om Prakash Meena told AFP.
K Prabhakaran, a member of the Hindu Makkal Katchi, told The Indian Express newspaper: “I respect all these books. But keeping them (at the memorial) without permission is wrong. Steps should be taken to see such things are not done again.”
Authorities have since prevented photographers from taking images of the statue.
Memorial officials did not respond to queries.
In an editorial, The Indian Express said that the religious controversy “does a great disservice to the legacy of the ‘people’s president’.”
Kalam was born into poverty and sold newspapers as a child to support his family while studying. His work on India’s own nuclear weapon earned him the nickname of “India’s missile man”.