Periyar is an icon in Tamil Nadu's dominant Dravidian politics. (Picture: Commons/Chinchu.c) Photograph:( Zee News Network )
BJP leader H Raja on Wednesday blamed staff managing his Facebook account for the controversial post on rationalist leader Periyar and expressed regret for the remarks even as the controversy refused to die down with parties and pro-Tamil outfits holding protests against him.
The state government has warned of action against those "disrupting public peace."
In a Facebook post that was later deleted on Tuesday, Raja had said: "Who is Lenin and what is the connection between Lenin and India? What connection India has with Communists? Today Lenin's statue removed in Tripura, tomorrow it will be the statue of EV Ramasamy in Tamil Nadu".
With the remarks stirring a controversy in Tamil Nadu, Raja initially took to Facebook on Wednesday to issue a clarification and express regret for his comments.
In his online post, he said his "Facebook admin" had put up a post comparing the razing down of Lenin statue in Tripura to that of Ramaswamy.
"Views should be confronted by views only and not by violence. I have no intentions of hurting anybody. Therefore, if anybody felt hurt by that post, I express my heartfelt regret," he said.
"It is not acceptable to us to damage any statue of Periyar," he further said.
Later, speaking to reporters in Delhi, he claimed that his Facebook admin had put up such a post while he was travelling to the national capital for a party event.
"I later removed the post and have also removed the admin," he said and once again expressed regret.
However, the move failed to cut any ice with political parties and pro-Tamil outfits in Tamil Nadu.
Opposition DMK and various fringe organisations and outfits staged protests in many parts of the state, with Raja's effigies being burnt in Chennai, Cuddalore and Salem among others.
Police detained scores of protesters, including some who tried to lay siege to the state BJP headquarters here. The protesters wanted the government to initiate legal action against the saffron party leader, known to make controversial remarks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have also condemned the vandalisation and warned of strong action against those indulging in such acts. The government warned of action against those affecting public peace.
"Anyone disrupting public peace will be produced before the law," senior AIADMK leader and state Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar told reporters here.
Using a Tamil phrase, he indicated that the government will not hesitate to take action against anyone affecting public peace.
Opposition DMK said that following the outcry in Tamil Nadu on this issue, none would make such remarks henceforth.
DMK Working President MK Stalin recalled Ramasamy's contribution in fighting various social evils and striving towards an egalitarian society and said he was a widely respected leader.
Pointing out at the widespread protests and the public outcry against Raja's comments, Stalin said: "none even in their dreams will now think of removing statues of Periyar."
"If anyone wanted to do so, let them touch the statues and the DMK, which upholds the Dravidian ideals of Periyar, will show who they are," he said in a letter to partymen.
President of Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM), actor Kamal Haasan, said he wondered if the ongoing controversy was aimed at diverting attention from the Cauvery issue. He said it came at a time when there were strong demands in the state urging the Centre to constitute the Cauvery Water Management Board (CMB), as per Supreme Court guidelines.
Asked if the BJP should take action against Raja, Haasan said: "that would be the proper, decent thing to do."
Following the vandalism of a Periyar statue in Vellore, statues of the leader in different parts of the state were given police protection. Armed police security was also posted at Raja's residence in Karaikudi.
Meanwhile, in an apparent fallout of the incident, the BJP office in Coimbatore came under attack, after miscreants hurled petrol bombs at it.
The men, who came in an auto-rickshaw, hurled the bombs at the office in Siddapudur at around 4 am, they said, adding that the bombs fell short of the BJP office building.
A special police team has been formed to track down the culprits, based on CCTV camera footage, they added.