An elephant’s death in the southern Indian state of Kerala has erupted into a political controversy, with the state’s chief minister flagging a “hate campaign” over the incident by the Hindu right-wing forces.
The wild elephant, aged about 15, allegedly ate a pineapple filled with firecrackers that exploded in its mouth, leaving it in searing pain as it walked around the village for days, according to media reports.
The animal eventually died standing in a river on May 27 near the Silent Valley National Park in Kerala’s Palakkad district, prompting shock and anger across the nation over the cruel death.
An autopsy undertaken by forestry officials found it had major wounds in its mouth consistent with an explosion, said a report by the India Today network.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday tweeted that three suspects have been identified, and that the case will be jointly investigated by the state’s police and forest departments.
“Justice will prevail,” he posted. The perpetrators could face animal cruelty charges that could bring fines or a jail term.
Meanwhile, a controversy erupted after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian Maneka Gandhi, also an animal rights activist, said the incident happened in Malappuram district, which has 70 percent Muslim population and lies 85km (52 miles) west of Palakkad.
“It’s murder. Malappuram is famous for such incidents, it’s India’s most violent district,” she told the ANI news agency on Wednesday.
“For instance, they throw poison on roads so that 300-400 birds and dogs die at one time,” she said, without elaborating who she meant by “they”.
The statement by the senior BJP leader triggered a storm of anger on social media, with hundreds of posts suggesting the perpetrator could be a Muslim.