As Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday dedicated the world’s tallest Statue of Unity to the nation calling it India’s reply to those who questioned its unity, a silent protest took place by thousands of tribals who call the project a harbinger of their devastation.
Unveiling the 182-metre Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue, Modi hit out at his critics for politicising the mission for erecting the tallest monument and asked all citizens to remain united in countering efforts made by divisive forces.
“Statue of Unity is to remind all those who question India’s existence and its integrity. This country was, is and will always be eternal,” Modi said.
He said the height of the statue is to remind the youth that the future of the country is in their aspirations and is as huge as this statue.
“The only mantra to fulfil these aspirations are ‘Ek Bharat-Shresth Bharat’ (One India, Best India). Statue of Unity is also symbolic of our engineering and technological affordability,” he added.
When Modi was unveiling the statue, twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, thousands of tribals across the eastern tribal belt of Gujarat, including the Narmada district where the massive structure is located, were observing a pin-drop bandh.
Kitchen fires in homes of an estimated 75,000 Adivasis in 72 villages were cold, and in keeping with the convention of not cooking when mourning the dead.
The bandh was in protest against acquisition of their land without adequate compensation for the statue project, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam and the Garudeswar weir, which is a part of the dam.
Tribal leader Praful Vasava, who has been leading the protest ever since the project was declared by Narendra Modi as a chief minister in 2013, said, “We are all for giving honour to Sardar Patel, but this is something which is at the cost of our very existence.” Sardar Patel would never have agreed to this, he said.
Around 72 villages are estimated to be affected by the statue project. There are 32 where their rehabilitation has been left half way, there are six villages where the Kevadia Colony housing the staff of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam project is situated and seven villages are in Garudeshwar block, where only cash compensation was given, but other commitments like land for land or jobs have not been fulfilled.
The Prime Minister said that keeping the nation’s unity, diversity and sovereignty intact was a responsibility which Patel gave to the countrymen.
The Prime Minister also launched an attack on those opposing his mission of reviving contributions of historical figures such as Sardar Patel, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Bhimrao Ambedkar and others.
“I am amazed that our efforts are seen with political glasses. Praising great icons has also brought us criticism. It seems we have committed a big crime,” he said.
Modi said Sardar disproved of all those who stated that a diverse country like India could remain united after Independence. It was because of Patel that the country now meets the world on its own terms and is moving towards becoming an economic and military superpower.
“They considered our diversity our biggest weakness, but Sardar Patel converted this into our biggest strength. India is moving ahead on the path shown by him,” he said.
“If today we are connected from Rajasthan’s Kutch to Nagaland’s Kohima and Jammu and Kashmir’s Kargil to Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari, it is because of Patel’s strong resolve and determination.
“Had Sardar Patel not done it, the country would have needed visas for offering prayers at Somnath and visiting Charminar in Hyderabad,” he said recalling Patel’s effort in integrating over 550 princely states into the Indian Union after the Partition of 1947.
Modi called the statue built on Sadhu Bet Island on the Narmada river at a cost of Rs 2,989 crore as the world’s tallest — surpassing China’s Spring Temple Buddha that stands at 153 metres by 29 metres and nearly double of the 93-metre Statue of Liberty in New York.
Three Indian Air Force planes flew past the statue and created the Tricolour in the sky following the inauguration.
The Gujarat government expects the statue to boost tourism, with one estimate putting the daily numbers at 15,000.
Apart from the Patel’s bronze figure, other major attractions include a 17-km-long Valley of Flowers, a Tent City for tourists near the statue and a museum dedicated to the life and times of Patel.
The Tent City, located around 4 km from the Statue of Unity can house more than 500 tourists at a time.
A viewing gallery at a height of 153 metres has been created inside the statue to enable tourists to have a view of the 1,210 metre-long concrete Sardar Sarovar Dam, 3.2 km upstream as well as the nearby Satpura and Vindhya mountain ranges.
According to a government statement, the statue has been built using over 70,000 tonne of cement, 18,500 tonne of reinforced steel, 6,000 tonne of structural steel and 1,700 tonne of bronze, which was used for the outer cladding of the structure.
Gujarat Governor O.P. Kohli, Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and BJP President Amit Shah were also present.