A statue of Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar was vandalised at Pillayarpatti village in Pudukkottai district on Monday, News18 reported. Unidentified people smeared the statue’s face with mud and cow dung.

The statue has been cleaned and an investigation has been initiated to identify the miscreants.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin condemned the incident and demanded strong action against the vandals, The Hindu reported. “It seems there could be a link between the incident and the portrait of Thiruvalluvar in saffron published by the state unit of the BJP,” he said. The Bharatiya Janata Party also condemned the incident of vandalism.

On Saturday, the state BJP unit had tweeted a portrait of the poet wearing saffron robes, instead of white. The picture was posted to hail the release of the Thai translation of the poet’s classic work Tirukkural in Bangkok. The image also showed Thiruvalluvar with ash smeared on forehead and rudraksha beads around his neck.

This triggered a political controversy. Stalin said the BJP’s attempt to appropriate Thiruvalluvar was an act of betrayal of Tamils. “How much ever you colour, it will fade,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Stop colouring and read Tirukkural and reform yourselves.”

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also condemned the saffron party and said the people of Tamil Nadu would never accept this. CPI(M) State Secretary K Balakrishnan said: “Thiruvalluvar is celebrated across the globe, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or language. No one has in the past depicted him as a part of a political movement.”

BJP National Secretary H Raja defended the image, and continued to tweet it. The party challenged Stalin to recite a specific Tirukkural couplet twice without any mistake. “If you do so, we will delete our tweet [showing Thiruvalluvar in saffron robes],” it added.

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam founder Vaiko also criticised the ruling party, according to The Hindu. “If the BJP does not stop its act, the people of Tamil Nadu will give a fitting reply,” he said.

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