MUMBAI, India – A leading Christian has called protests in India against a proposed statue of Jesus Christ “unjustified and undemocratic.”

Hundreds of members of Hindu nationalist organizations took to the streets on Monday to demand a halt to the giant statue – at 114 feet, similar in size to the Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – planned in the state of Karnataka.

Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population, but the area where the statue is being planned overlooks a Christian village.

“If at all a statue needs to be built let it be that of Tilak or even Gandhi or thousands of saints of India,” said Kalladaka Prabhakar, a leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is associated with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to the Hindustan Times.

The project is the brainchild of D. K. Shivakumar, a wealthy politician belonging to the opposition Congress Party, who thinks it will draw tourism to the area.

He was dismissive of the protests.

“Let them come, shout and go. We are not bothered. Being the local [member of the state parliament], my job is to help all constituents, and Christians have been worshipping there for nearly 400 years,” Shivakumar, a Hindu, told the media.

Abraham Mathai, the president of the Indian Christian Voice and former Vice-Chairman of India’s Minorities Commission, said Shivakumar should be commended “for expressing reverential adoration to the deity of Christ by this gesture.”

“Our country has a galore of statues immortalising great personalities who have contributed selflessly to the wellbeing of the nation with great sacrifices. In view of this, Shivakumar is not wrong in his decision to venerate Christ a person who turned the world right-side up with his exemplary character and impeccable integrity whose teaching and lifestyle continues transforming humanity. In the secular sphere, Christ has also been voted as the man of the millennium by leading international publications like Time magazine,” Mathai said.

India has more than 20 statues over 100 feet tall, most of which represent Hindu deities. The tallest is the Statue of Unity, which is a representation of independence activist Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel located in Gujarat. Completed in 2018, the 597-foot-tall statue is the tallest in the world.

Mathai said opposition to the proposed statue of Christ is based on religious prejudices.

“These opponents of the statue state their aversion is because of the forceful conversion by Christians. However, their baseless allegations belie governmental statistics. Ironically, Christians comprise less than 2.5 per cent of India’s demographics, a statistic that has remained more or less unchanged since Independence,” he said.

“This falsehood of conversion has been peddled repeatedly to dupe gullible simpletons who have believed it. Do they know that Apostle Thomas and Bartholomew came to India 2,000 years ago with the Gospel and they lived and died here in our country?” Mathai continued.

“The Western world got the Gospel several centuries later and today they are Christian nations. Instead in India the Christian community focused more on social justice and have greatly contributed to the development and modernization of our nation. Our educational, medical and health care institutions along with other socio-economic advancements are a testament to our contribution to the nation,” he said.

H.D. Deve Gowda, who served briefly as Indian prime minister in the 1990s and now heads a local political party in of Karnataka, said he supported the building of the statue.

“This country belongs to all. Ambedkar wrote law which says we should protect all religions. BJP should have no expectations from me. Whatever D.K. Shivakumar is trying to do, there is no fault in that. They might have taken a decision to build a statue of Jesus on top of a hill, we don’t have any objection to it. Why are people from Mangalore and Bangalore going to protest in Kanakapura?” he said during a press conference.

There has been no timeline announced for the installation of the proposed statue.

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