In their eagerness to project President Kovind as India’s first Dalit president, fake news sites and even sections of media did not spare late president, K.R. Narayanan. “Shocking! K.R. Narayanan was first Christian President, not Dalit President,” screamed the headline of fake news site postcard.news. The same was also reported in Outlook, with an equally sensational headline, “Was India’s first Dalit President, K.R. Narayanan really a Christian?”
The controversy about the religious identity of K.R. Narayanan has been triggered off by the discovery of his remains in a Christian cemetery. The President was cremated with full state honours on the banks of Yamuna according to Hindu rituals in 2005. It was a mystery to find a tomb in a cemetery in Delhi next to his Christian wife, Usha Narayanan with the words, “A Gentle Colossus, 4-2-1921 – 9-11-2005 President of India 1997-2002 Loving husband of Usha Narayanan.” Once the news broke out, Kerala’s Janam TV channel and Janmabhumi daily, both backed by RSS, reported “K R Narayanan was converted into Christianity after his death”.
So how did the remains of the former president end up in a Christian cemetery? Does it mean what Postcard news has concluded and what Outlook has speculated? Let us find out…
Attempts to malign
Attempts to malign late President Narayanan are not new. Around 20 years ago, around the time his name was proposed for the office of the president, an article titled, “Dalit Hindu or Christian” in Rediff, raised the same concern. VHP president Ashok Singhal told Rediff On The NeT, “This is a larger conspiracy of the Church to make Rashtrapati Bhavan a bastion of Christianity.” He further added, “Narayanan has never served the dalit cause throughout his life. He is neither a follower of Dr Ambedkar nor of Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore, it is dangerous to make him the President.”
The recent controversy started with the spotting of late President’s memorial at a Christian cemetery. That was enough for some to conclude that he was not a Dalit and that President Kovind is really the first Dalit president.
Postcard News followed the same line in its article talking of handiwork of the Church and another possible “conspiracy of the Church.”
News 18 contacted his daughters Amrita Narayanan and Chitra Narayanan to find out how the remains of the late President were found in a cemetery when he was cremated according to Hindu rituals. The daughters told News18 in an email reply that he was a Hindu who respected all religions and such a controversy around a private matter was totally uncalled for. They informed News18, that:
“After the funeral, the ashes were distributed in four parts. One part of the urns containing the ashes were by taken by train to Haridwar where they were immersed in the Ganga by the eldest daughter. The second part of the urns were accompanied by the younger daughter and taken to Kerala where the state government arranged the procession to the Bharathapuzha, a sacred river in Kerala. The ashes were immersed according to Hindu rites by Narayanan’s younger brother KR Bhaskaran, who was a close associate of the BJP. Third part of the ashes were mingled with those of Narayanan’s late parents. The final and a small portion of the ashes were retained by his widow Usha Narayanan, a Christian, to be buried alongside her. At her passing in 2008, this was done according to her wishes at the Prithviraj Road cemetery. This was an entirely private wish and should be respected accordingly.”
A story in Indian Express also quoted the daughters as saying their father was a Hindu who was cremated as per Hindu rituals. A part of his ashes were buried alongside his wife, in accordance with her wishes.
Even after the daughters have clarified, at the time of writing this article, both Postcard News and Outlook had not updated their speculative articles. Outlook instead came out with a second article titled, “Ashes Of KR Narayanan Was Given A Second Christian Burial, Admits Daughter.” While the article presents the clarification of the daughter that her father was a Hindu, it maintains the angle of a conspiracy theory given that the cemetery is exclusively for Christians. It quotes Rev. J. Rebello, the chairman of Delhi Cemeteries Committee saying, “the burial happened because the Christian pastor of Narayanan’s wife, a protestant, could have vouched that Narayanan is a Christian.”
It is unfortunate that even after clarification by the family, such conspiracy theories are widely being shared to malign a former president of India years after his death.