Politics at play as India unveils world’s tallest statue

The Statue of Unity, above, the world’s tallest, was unveiled in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Tuesday as a fitting tribute to a tall leader who had worked hard to unite the country soon after its independence.

The 182m high bronze-clad structure of independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the ‘Iron Man of India’, was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who described it as a symbol of the nation’s integrity and resolve.

The structure is nearly twice as tall as New York’s Statue of Liberty and surpasses the 128m high Spring Temple Buddha in China.

Modi said the statue was long overdue, in a seemingly veiled attack on Congress which did not properly honour the memory of its veteran party leader who played a key role in integrating the princely states into the Indian Union after independence.

Since independence, Congress was focused on honouring just one family — late Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, and grandson Rajiv Gandhi all of whom served as India’s prime ministers. Several federal facilities and schemes were named after them.

The $430 million worth statue’s inauguration coincided with the 143rd birth anniversary of Patel who was born in Gujarat. Modi had approved the plan for the structure when he was the chief minister of the state in 2010.

While the statue of Patel will inspire generations of patriotic youth, its site along the banks of Narmada River in Kevadiya will serve as a major tourist destination drawing an estimated 2.5 million annual visitors that will bring jobs and income to local tribes.

But the statue will lose the ‘world’s tallest’ tag before long. The government in the western Indian state of Maharashtra is constructing a memorial to the Maratha warrior king Shivaji that will be 190m tall.

Congress party has questioned the attempt by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to claim Patel’s legacy. BJP argues the freedom fighter’s legacy belongs to everybody.

As Congress remains loyal to late Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, who leads it, BJP is honouring the memory of leaders like Patel and Subash Chandra Bose.

Gujaratis, especially the Patidar community, are proud of Patel and the memorial for him may cheer up Patidars who were upset with the Modi government over the issue of job reservation.

Tribes of Kevadiya too are upset after listening to the Congress narrative that the statue project was sheer waste of money which could have been better utilised to improve their lives.

The BJP-ruled Gujarat government keeps telling them that they will soon be earning more once the tourists start arriving.