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Indian authorities demolish controversial Modi temple

Shrine razed after PM urges better use of resources
Indian authorities demolish controversial Modi temple

Villagers assemble and pray by an idol of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a temple erected in his honor at Kotharia village near Rajkot, some 225 kilometers from Ahmedabad, on Thursday (AFP Photo)

Published: February 13, 2015 08:31 AM GMT
Updated: April 24, 2015 02:09 PM GMT

Local government authorities Thursday demolished a temple built to honor Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he tweeted that the temple “appalled” him.

Government workers in Gujarat state's Rajkot district dismantled the temple, which was built on state land, without any resistance, said Manisha Chandra, Rajokot collector, the highest official in the district.

"The temple encroached on government land, therefore I ordered to it cleared," Chandra told ucanews.com Friday.

She said the builders had no permission to construct a temple on government land.

Some 350 Modi supporters built the temple with collected funds of approximately US$8,000 in Kotharia, a village in the district. The temple, scheduled for opening on Sunday, had a bust of the popular leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in his characteristic collarless shirt and saffron shawl.

The village is about five kilometers away from Rajkot town and is part of the Rajkot assembly constituency where Modi contested state elections for the first time in 2002 and won by a landslide.

The temple was razed to the ground hours after Modi said in a social media posting that he became aware of the temple through news reports. "This is shocking and against India's great traditions," his tweet said.

He also said the move "personally made [him] very sad" and asked his followers to dedicate their time and resources instead to helping his recently launched campaign to clean up India.

Modi, who was chief minister in Gujarat for 15 years before he took power in Delhi last May, is very popular in his home state.

Chandra said local authorities demolished the temple of their own volition, not because of Modi’s comments. "There was no external pressure. It was part of routine work to clear encroachments," she said.

But Shanker Patel, one of the people behind the temple, told ucanews.com that the temple was first constructed in 2006 as Bharat Mata (Mother India) temple and was only recently turned into the Modi temple after members installed his statue four months ago.

Patel said the demolition did not affect the Modi statue. "We shifted the idol to a safer place," he said.

"When Modi, who we consider god, tweeted on Thursday that he was not happy with the temple in his name, we dismantled it immediately," Patel said.

Before Modi became premier, he had told a gathering in October 2013 that he wanted to give priority to toilets, not temples.

An estimated 600 million people in the country of 1.2 billion have no toilets — particularly in rural villages — and defecate in the open. The situation has led to serious health issues and has been blamed for helping exacerbate India’s rape problem.

A temple with a Modi statue, however, is not unprecedented, according to media reports.

In Uttar Pradesh's Bhagwanpur village a Shiva temple has a statue of Modi. Reportedly, its priest takes inspiration from Modi's beard and dress. The temple also offers special prayers to the prime minister.

It is not uncommon in India to build temples dedicated to extraordinarily popular politicians, film stars and even cricket legends.

Southern Telangana state has a temple dedicated to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The temple, which cost some $4,200, was opened last July.

Legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who retired from professional cricket last year, has a temple dedicated to him in a village in southwestern Bihar state, while popular Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan has one near Kolkata.

Several film stars in Tamil Nadu also have temples in their name built by fans, who deify them.

Other Indians with temples in their name include Mahatma Gandhi and film star turned politician MG Ramachadran of Tamil Nadu.

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