Located facing the Narmada Dam, 3.2 kilometers away on the river island called Sadhu Bet near Rajpipla in Gujarat; the monument along with its surroundings occupies over 20,000 square meters, and is surrounded by a 12-sq-km artificial lake. It is the world’s tallest statue with a height of 182 meters (597 feet). It is almost 100 feet taller than China’s Spring Temple Buddha, the world’s current tallest statue at 502 feet and will be almost twice as high as the Statue of Liberty in New York, which is 305 feet tall. The Statue of Unity now joins an extraordinary list of manmade structures that have acquired a great respect from the world through generations.
The most relevant connection of the Statue of Unity would perhaps be with the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Eiffel Tower was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. It was actually nothing but a ceremonial entrance tower to the 1889 Expo and was broadly disapproved in its time. More than a hundred million visitors regardless of age or origin have come from all over the planet to see it since its opening in 1889.
Just like the Eiffel Tower, can the Statue of Unity attract global tourists? Well, the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world, attracts about 8 million visitors annually; only 10 per cent of whom are foreigners.
The project was in fact, first announced on October 7, 2010, to mark the beginning of the tenth year of Modi’s appointment as chief minister of Gujarat. Till June 2013, there was little development despite formation of a special purpose vehicle, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET), because Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions were being blocked within the party.
But two days after Modi was named as chairman of the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign committee of the BJP at the national executive committee meeting in Goa in June 2013, he announced a nationwide campaign to collect small pieces of iron from farmers for using it to build the proposed statue.
In the process, not only will the Statue of Unity literally dwarf statues of all other Indians leaders of the, but the event will also enable the memory of the Sardar to rise imposingly over Mahatma Gandhi and more importantly Jawaharlal Nehru.
Why it should be treated as the Pride of India?
- The statue is supposed to remain as it is for 1000 years, indicating that it will continue contributing to the national income of India through tourism for 10 centuries! Since the Statue has been built on PPP model, the public money spent on it is less than the private money spent on it.
- The Statue of Unity will help in increasing tourism income and a large area with Hotels, transport and other services will develop fast. It is estimated that more than 10 Lakh tourists will visit the Statue of Unity every year. This will help in generating huge income from tourism and transportation and other services. Entire money spent on the construction is expected to be recovered in the next 35-40 years.
- Thousands of people in Narmada District and nearby areas will get employment opportunity directly or indirectly.
Why it should be mediated as Wastage of Money?
- The most important factor in figuring out potential visitors to the new statue will be its location. One must not forget that the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and other such major tourist attractions are all located within well populated cities. But the Statue of Unity is located 200 kilometers from Ahmadabad with an indicated travel time of 3 hours 41 minutes. Travel time of 18 hours 3 minutes, and surely an overnight trip, would be required to travel 1063 kilometers from New Delhi if you wanted to see the towering Statue of Unity. As a standalone site, the Statue of Unity is disadvantaged geographically which can affect its tourism.
- The release of Rs.200 crores by the Government of India for the project attracted the ire of several people and political parties. They criticized the expenditure on the statue over other priorities like women’s safety, education and agricultural schemes.
- Social Activists have opposed the project on the ground that India is suffering from natural calamities like floods and cyclones in many parts of the country e.g. Kerala, Orissa.
- Accordingly instead of putting in the money in the construction of statue, the money could have gone to address these problems of common people.
- Patel might have wished India enjoyed twice the per capital income of the United States of America. Instead, India’s lags at under $2,000 (even according to government gures) against more than $60,000 in the US and China’s $17,000.
- The other boast about the Statue of Unity worsting the Buddha in China’s Spring Temple by 177 feet is even more ridiculous if not downright sacrilegious. It would have been another matter if India’s economy had matched China’s, which is the world’s second biggest. Or if India could hold the US to ransom like China, which owns $1.18 trillion in American treasury bonds. A detail that provoked Rahul Gandhi’s jibe that the statue should carry a “Made in China” tag cannot be ignored either.
- There are other pressing needs in India – like education, health, safety, employment. The money could have been utilized in these sectors.
- Local Tribals were dislocated as their land was acquired for the construction of the statue. The Tadvi tribe opposed land acquisition for the development of tourism infrastructure around the statue. However, they were offered cash and land compensation, and have been provided jobs before land acquisition.
- According to reports, the statue’s distinctive surface is due to 565 bronze panels, each of which has 10 to 15 micro panels, which were imported from China, presumably because the technology is beyond us. That foreign element — especially from a country that is regarded as India’s principal rival and which challenges India at every turn — makes nonsense of any pretence to swaraj. It is trite to reduce a nation of 1.3 billion people with 5,000 years of civilization behind them to the level of a man-made graven image, however stupendous or extravagant.
- Activists like Medha Patkar, Gladson Dungdung opposed the project on the ground that it was a place of religious importance, so the statue should not be built on the land. Environmental activists wrote a letter to the central government contending that project implementation started without clearance from the Environment Ministry.
- People of Kevadia, Kothi, Waghodia, Limbdi, Navagam, and Gora villages opposed the construction of the statue and demanded the restitution of the land rights over 375 hectares (927 acres) of land acquired earlier for the dam.
The Politics behind It
Only the naive would argue that there was no political motive behind the decision. The plan to forge the gigantic sculpture from melted-down metal and farming equipment collected from farmers who were asked to donate a symbolic tool was indication of using this project as a political vehicle. These scraps or iron were taken across India in processions even as Indians witnessed the electoral campaign.
Politically speaking, the Modi government’s move to come up with a grand statue of Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel seems like a masterstroke. The BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have time and again spoken on how the Congress did not give Sadar Patel the credit and recognition he deserved.
The Congress has itself to blame for this. One cannot deny that the Congress has not been that generous in honoring the leaders outside of the Nehru Gandhi family. During the Congress regime, the birth and death anniversaries of Jawharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi used to be celebrated with great enthusiasm, but similar fervour seemed missing when to came observing occasions related to other leaders, be it Shubhash Chandra Bose, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Maulana Azad or many other such leaders. Mahatma Gandhi, though not part of the Nehru family, is revered because he is a leader of a different stature altogether.
There is another aspect to this. The BJP cannot openly glorify its founders and prominent Sangh leaders who laid the foundation of its ideology. Glorifying Golwalkar and and Veer Savarkar openly would be like embracing the extremist Hindutva ideolgy which forms the basis of RSS philosophy. With elections round the corner, or even otherwise, the BJP would like to be seen as a tolerant secular party which believes in all inclusiveness. For this, the BJP is now glorifying national icons that were part of the Congress but have a pan India appeal.
It must also not be forgotten that the decision to construct the Statue of Unity was made by Modi as Gujarat chief minister and the foundation stone was laid on October 31, 2013 – by when he had already been anointed Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Moreover, the Sardar was not a leader who disguised his Hindu patriotic attitude. Contradictory, his statements in the constituent assembly, admitting the essence of secularism for a democracy to be bona fide to its earnestness, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel “stepped aside three times to enable Jawaharlal Nehru to become Congress president— in 1929, 1937 and 1946″ and never challenged Nehru’s leadership because of his faith in Gandhi’s acumen and belief.
However, symbolically and righteously, this Statue whether or not attracts tourists but it sure can and will provide Indians, “an indisputable bragging rights” for their country being home to the world’s tallest statue.