Proposed 114-ft statue of Christ triggers row in Karnataka

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Published on Dec 28, 2019 01:15 AM IST
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ByVenkatesha Babu

A project to construct what is claimed to be the world’s tallest statue of Christ in the Kapalaa Hills of Karnataka’s Haarobele village, on a 10-acre plot donated by Congress leader D K Shivakumar, has started a political slugfest in the southern state.

On Christmas Day, Shivakumar, who represents the assembly constituency in which the village falls, participated in a ceremony marking the start of work on the statue by offering prayers at the site; the event also showcased a scale model of the proposed 114 feet tall statue carved out of a single rock.

Shivakumar and his brother D K Suresh, who is also the local MP, handed over ownership papers of the plot to a local Church-run trust that is executing the project.

Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have criticised the move. Senior BJP leader and minister of rural development and panchayat raj K S Eshwarappa posted a tweet that said the Congress had opposed the construction of a Ram temple, but was supporting the plan to build a Christ statue.

At Mangaluru airport on Friday, Eshwarappa defended his tweet in a conversation with reporters. “If the move to erect the statue has taken place to take everybody along it is a welcome move but this is an attempt to woo Christian votes. He {Shivakumar} claims he is a follower of Kempe Gowda and a devotee of Adi Chunchingiri Mutt Swami, then why not their statue? When announcing Christ statue, did he forget them? I am not objecting to Christ statue, but there are several gods in Hindu pantheon; it would be good if he turned his attention to them too.”

Former Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde,in a series of tweets, also hit out at Shivakumar. “...for the sake of a post and to please his Italian boss Tihar returned man is undertaking this move,” he wrote. It was a swipe at the possible elevation of Shivakumar as the next Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president, and the time he recently spent in Delhi’s Tihar jail in a case of alleged money laundering.

Revenue minister R Ashoka said the land that had been transferred by Shivakumar to the Church-backed trust was community cattle grazing land, known locally as Gomala, that belonged to the government.

“The previous government had ordered the transfer of it to them at 10% of the market price in 2017. They have not even paid conversion fees. It doesn’t even belong to D K Shivakumar and they had applied to take over this...How can he transfer something which he doesn’t even own? Government will investigate and reclaim the Gomala land.”

Shivakumar defended the proposal to construct the Christ statue. He wrote in a tweet : “I believe in a democracy where all faiths are equal. In my Kanakapura constitutency there are people of all faiths and it is my job to respect all of them. I don’t have to take lessons from those small minded people who believe in burning Babasaheb Ambedkar’s constitution.”

With the government ordering an enquiry into how the land was transferred to Shivakumar and his brother, and into its actual ownership, the project may be delayed for now --at least until the matter of the title to the proposed site is sorted out.

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