India’s Modi ‘appalled’ by temple in his honour

Modi supporters have decided to rededicate the temple in Gujurat state to "Mother India" following the prime minister's strong criticisms.

Indian villagers pray by an idol of prime minister Narendra Modi at a temple erected in his honour in Kotharia village, some 225 kilometres from Ahmedabad, on February 12, 2015. STR/AFP Photo
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Ahmedabad, India // Fans of Narendra Modi on Thursday scrapped plans to open a temple in his honour after the Indian premier said he was “appalled” by the idea.

Modi supporters had invested thousands of dollars in the temple in his home state of Gujarat, which houses a large statue of the charismatic leader — a famously natty dresser — and was due to open on Sunday.

But they decided to rededicate the temple to “Mother India” after the prime minister strongly criticised the plan, saying it went against the country’s traditions.

“We had built the temple to express our love and faith in Modiji,” project organiser Ramesh Udhad said, using an Indian honorific to describe the prime minister.

“But if he is unhappy or hurt by our gesture, we will remove his statue.”

Mr Udhad said Sunday’s opening ceremony had been cancelled and the statue of Mr Modi, who appears dressed in his trademark collarless jacket and a saffron sash, covered with a tarpaulin.

“Building such temples is not what our culture teaches us,” Mr Modi tweeted earlier Thursday.

“I was appalled. This is shocking and against India’s great traditions,” he said, urging supporters instead to focus their energies on his flagship campaign to clean up India.

Temples dedicated to living people are unusual in Indian culture, but not unprecedented — last year, supporters opened a temple to opposition leader Sonia Gandhi in the south of the country.

News of the dedication came at an embarrassing time for Mr Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) this week suffered a drubbing in Delhi state polls.

The charismatic 64-year-old had enjoyed an extended honeymoon with voters since his landslide general election victory last year, and remains popular. But some analysts say voters are growing tired of waiting for his promised reforms.

Mr Modi has also suffered opposition charges of arrogance — notably last month when he wore a suit with his own name woven into the pinstripe to meet the visiting US president Barack Obama.

Although Mr Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has been careful to stress inclusivity since taking office, his failure to prevent fellow BJP leaders from making remarks seen as derogatory towards India’s religious minorities has caused concern in some quarters.

The temple was constructed over years with donations from some 350 Modi devotees from Kotharia village in Gujarat at a cost of around $8,000.

A long time chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Modi stormed to power nationally last May, riding a “Modi-wave” of popularity that saw thousands pack rallies to hear the powerful and charismatic orator.

* Agence France-Presse