India Unveils World’s Tallest Statue “Statue of Unity”
India has unveiled the world’s tallest statue, depicting one of the country’s independence leaders, in a lavish ceremony featuring fireworks, fighter jets and rose petals showered by helicopters.
The 182-metre sculpture of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Statue of Unity to commemorate his efforts to corral hundreds of princely states into the Indian union after independence, was revealed on Wednesday by the prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Huge crowds and more than 5,000 police officers gathered in a remote corner of Gujarat state for the ceremony, which has also sparked protests from local communities who say they were not compensated for the land used to erect the statue.
Modi said the structure, which is twice the size of New York’s Statue of Liberty, was “an answer to all those who question the existence of India”.
“The height of the statue is to remind the youth that the future of the country will be as huge as this,” he said, and is symbolic of “our engineering and technical prowess”.
The bronze-clad figure of Patel, which houses a memorial garden and museum in its base, cost an estimated 29.8bn rupees (£314m) and has been under construction for four years.
Lifts have been installed to take up to 15,000 tourists each day to a viewing gallery about 152m high. The admission fee is 350 rupees.
Police have denied allegations by local community groups that plain-clothes officers detained 12 people on Tuesday to prevent them from protesting at the site. The Gujarat government says 185 families were moved to accommodate the structure and received compensation and 1,200 acres (475 hectares) of new land.
The area is home to mostly tribal groups with special protected status. The chiefs of 22 local villages signed a letter calling on Modi to stay away from the inauguration.
Posters of Modi with the Gujarat chief minister, Vijay Rupani, were torn down or had their faces blackened at the weekend. Police kept watch on posters put in place of the torn ones.
“Tribal groups have been exploited by different governments, the ruling BJP [Bharatiya Janata party] is repeating it again,” local legislator and community group leader Chotu Vasava said.
“I am not against Sardar, but what is the use of the statue if the people on the land have to suffer and are moved from their homes?”
The statue dwarfs the 128-metre high Spring Temple Buddha in China, the world’s next-largest statue, and was built with iron gathered from around the country. Patel is often called the “Iron Man of India”.
The first deputy prime minister of India, he was involved in banning a Hindu nationalist organisation after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, but has lately become an icon for rightwing Hindus.
He is revered for persuading, and in some cases threatening, the more than 550 princely states that existed in the country before independence in 1947 to join the Indian union.
“Had Sardar Patel not united the country, we would need visas to see lions or pay homage at Somnath or view the Charminar in Hyderabad,” Modi said. “Patel converted India’s diversity into its biggest strength.”
Critics of the government say its reverence for Patel is an attempt to sideline the historical role of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and an icon of the main opposition Congress party.
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