Thieves in India this week removed some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes from the ground on what would have been his 150th birthday, the BBC Hindi reported on Thursday.
The ashes of Gandhi were stolen on Wednesday from a memorial in Rewa, in Madhya Pradesh state in central India, where they had been buried since his assassination in 1948 by a Hindu extremist. The perpetrators also scrawled the word “traitor” in green paint across posters of the independence leader.
Local police in Rewa confirmed to the BBC that they were investigating the incident on three separate counts, including “imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration,” “intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace,” and “statements conducing to public mischief.”
The caretaker of the Bapu Bhawan memorial, the site where the former independence leader was buried, denounced the theft as “shameful.”
“I opened the gate of the Bhawan early in the morning because it was Gandhi’s birthday,” he told Indian website The Wire. “When I returned at around 11 pm, I found the mortal remains of Gandhi missing and his poster was defaced.”
Investigations into the incident began after the leader of the local Congress political party, Gurmeet Singh, filed a complaint. Singh told the same website that “Gandhi’s ideology has been shamed again” and that the attack must have been carried out by Hindu nationalists who were follower’s of Gandhi’s killer.
“This unlawful act must have been done by the followers of Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse,” he said. “This madness must stop. I urge Rewa police to check CCTV cameras installed inside Bapu Bhawan and nab the accused.”
Despite being a figure revered around the world, with his supporters regarding him as the “Father of the Nation,” Gandhi’s legacy remains unpopular with many Hindu nationalists opposed to his efforts to create Hindu-Muslim unity.
India is currently governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose leader Narendra Modi just this week paid tribute to Gandhi in an op-ed for The New York Times. describing him as the best “teacher to guide us.”
“From uniting those who believe in humanity to furthering sustainable development and ensuring economic self-reliance, Gandhi offers solutions to every problem,” wrote Modi.
However, many on the hardline wing of the party do not share the same enthusiasm, instead blaming him for dividing the country and the consequent bloodshed during the Partition of India, which saw India and Pakistan morphed into separate states following their declaration of independence from the British Empire in 1947.