Objectionable messages, mostly directed towards right-wing outfits, were found written on the pedestal of a yet to be unveiled statue of Swami Vivekananda on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on Thursday.
The statue, which is covered in a saffron-coloured cloth, is located at the varsity's administrative block, where students are protesting the increase in hostel fee, even though the administration announced a partial rollback of the hike on Wednesday.
JNU vice chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar said a complaint will be filed against those behind "vandalising" the statue.
"For all of us, Swami Vivekananda is a great icon and philosopher. I think every Indian respects him. Vandalising his statue is the most the uncivilised behaviour I can think of," the vice-chancellor said.
The administration is in the process of identifying the culprits and will file a complaint, Kumar said, adding strict action will be taken.
"Disrespecting Vivekananda in our university by some miscreants is not at all acceptable," he said in a tweet.
The incident, which came to light after a video of the messages at the statue's base went viral, triggered a blame game between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Left-backed JNU Students' Union.
"The acts of vandalism are a conspiracy to defame the university and its democratic culture by right wing forces.
"The VC (vice-chancellor), the ruling regime and their lackeys on campus, which is the ABVP, want to divert the issue from the fee hike to pointless and polarising debates," JNUSU members said in a statement.
The union denied any involvement in the matter.
On Wednesday, students had painted various messages for vice-chancellor Kumar inside the administration block of the university as they barged inside the building to talk to him about the hostel fee hike.
The RSS-affiliate, however, said the union under the garb of the JNU students' movement against hostel fee hike is "fulfilling petty political interests".
Members of the ABVP cleaned the pedestal and lit earthen lamps around the statue to pay their respect to Swami Vivekananda, the students' outfit said.
Heeraman Tiwari, dean at the JNU's school of management, told PTI that he was shocked to see the "vandalised" statue and the writings at its base.
"Shocked beyond belief & with tears in my eyes: went there to express my horror & perhaps to meditate what kind of JNU students would vandalised the statue of #SwamiVivekananda ji, an inspiration & icon of our youth. Notice the marks on the left shoe of the statue. Ashamed, once again (sic)," he tweeted.
The JNUSU said the student community does not endorse acts of vandalism and those doing it should not use the movement's name to justify such acts.
"We condemn unequivocally the attempts to malign the JNU student movement through acts which do not represent the JNU student movement," it said in the statement.
"Students with their future at stake due to the hostel fee hike can never be perpetrators of any violence or undemocratic action," the student's union said.
The ABVP's JNU unit president Durgesh Kumar and secretary Manish Jangid said in a joint statement that the Left was trying to revive its "flop agenda".
"At a time when the common student of JNU is fighting for his rights, the Left is unsuccessfully trying to revive its flop agenda," they said.
Swami Vivekanada has made important contributions in showing the direction to modern India and he cannot be seen through a political lens, ABVP state secretary for Delhi Siddharth Yadav said.
The JNU Teachers' Association (JNUTA) also expressed its "strong disapproval" over "defacing of the area around the Vivekananda statue".
"One way or the other, those responsible for this are clearly not friends of the struggle against an authoritarian administration and its unjust actions, and do not represent the democratic ethos of which JNU has justifiably been proud," the JNUTA said.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra also condemned the incident. "The attack on the statue of Vivekananda in JNU symbolises a sickening mentality," he said.
"Why hate Vivekananda? Some people hate every symbol of country and religion. These are not students, they are street goons, such goons should be punished like criminals and traitors," Mishra said.
JNU had said last year one of its alumni was "voluntarily managing all the expenses" involved in the installation of Swami Vivekananda's statue on the campus.
The statement had come after the teachers' association and the students' union had questioned the source of funds for the construction of the statue, which was being set up next to the administration block, opposite the statue of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Executive Council of the varsity had approved of the installation of the statue in its meeting in 2017.
On the hostel fee hike, hundreds of students, led by the JNUSU, had barged inside the administration block on Wednesday to talk to the VC and on not finding him and other officials in the building, painted messages on the walls near his office.
"You are not our VC. Go back to your Sangh," they wrote on one of the doors to the VC's office. Another message written on the floor outside the office read, "Mamidala, Bye, Bye Forever."
The varsity administration, after facing two weeks of protests, rolled back the hostel fee hike partially for BPL students not availing any scholarship. Students dubbed the move an "eyewash".