Chennai: A sacred book stand with words "Bhagavad Gita" engraved which mysteriously appeared by the statue of former president APJ Abdul Kalam at his memorial in Rameswaram before its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week -- has triggered a controversy. Tamil Nadu's opposition MDMK has alleged that it is a "sinister move by the BJP government".
Underscoring that Dr Kalam was "above any religion", a member of his family who did not want to be named, said they were foxed by the sudden appearance of the engraving at the foot of Dr Kalam's statue. "Only on the day of the dedication, it was quietly placed before the Prime Minister arrived. It was a surprise," he said.
Dr Kalam loved, respected and quoted from all religions, said MDMK chief Vaiko. "People who would visit the memorial all over the world, shouldn't mistake that he loved only the Gita," Mr Vaiko said.
He also insisted that Thirukurazh, a classic Tamil literary text replace the Gita. Dr Kalam had often quoted couplets from it during his speeches. He quoted them even during his address to the Greek Parliament. "It will be a fitting tribute if Thirukurazh is placed there instead. It's universally acceptable," he said.
This morning, Dr Kalam's grand-nephew Sheikh Salim placed copies of the Quran and Bible belonging to the former President next to the Gita. But the two texts had to be removed following protests by a fringe Hindu group.
Officials of the defence research organization DRDO, which was in charge of building the memorial, said they were helpless. "We built everything according to the plan given to us. We've no say in this," the official said.
Confirming that even though the former President's Quran and a Bible were placed near the Gita, "we have moved them back to the box they were in. Now only the Gita is near the statue of him playing Veena," the official said.
Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan said "Kalam loved all religions. I don't understand how they make Kalam a subject of debate".
State Finance Minister D Jayakumar said "We would take up this issue with the centre if required".
The DRDO had a long association with Dr Kalam, who was fondly referred to as India's Missile Man.
The Rs 20-crore monument - inaugurated by PM Modi on Thursday - was expedited after a huge public outcry following media reports that dogs were seen littering the area where the People's President lay buried.
The memorial has an entrance that resembles Delhi's India Gate, a dome that reminds one of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and a replica of the doors of the Tanjore temple. During its construction, various materials, including sand, stones and water were brought from various parts of the country to make it a symbol of national integration.