As one moves from Vadodara to the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the whole 90-km stretch of the newly-made four-lane highway showcases posters and banners featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Most of these posters are proud exclamations of unveiling the world’s tallest statue.
As one enters the Sardar Sarovar project, one notices the idol of Goddess Narmada riding a crocodile. Amidst the mountains of Satpuda and Vindhyachal, the 182-meter statue of the ‘Iron Man’ Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stands high.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be inaugurating this engineering marvel on Wednesday on the 143rd birth anniversary of Patel, the first home minister of independent India. Named ‘Statue of Unity’, at 182 meters, it is almost double the size of the Statue of Liberty in the US, and four times the size of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
Built by Larsen & Toubro Ltd at a cost of Rs 2,989 crore, the statue was completed in a record time of 33 months. Noted sculptor Pasmabhushan Ram V Sutar, who is credited with sculpting some of the finest statues in the country, has designed the statue. Nearly 135 metric tonnes of iron was crowdsourced from different parts of the country to be used in the statue.
Two high-speed lifts fitted inside the legs of the statue will take guests to the Visitors’ Gallery near the chest of the statue, which will provide them with a breathtaking view of the beautiful Narmada Valley. The premises would also have a state-of-the-art museum showcasing the life and work of Sardar Patel.
NOT ALL UNITED
However, some locals and supporters of the Narmada Bachao Andolan are opposing the grand project. Social activist Medha Patkar has written a symbolic letter to Sardar Patel as a mark of protest.
“You, Sardar, once the chairman of the committee responsible for minorities, tribals, excluded areas, and fundamental rights must also know that when your avatar will be well-lit and decorated, the tribal communities, being repressed and oppressed, are to be thrown into darkness,” she wrote.
“Their lands, in six villages not even legally acquired, following British law of 1894, but simply taken over, paying a paltry sum of Rs 80 to Rs 200 per acre in 1961, are now being diverted for luxurious hotels named after ‘Shreshtha Bharath’ or Swaminarayan Complex and even a museum with their own remnants,” Patkar said in her letter.
Apprehending protests, the Gujarat Police on Tuesday detained several tribal leaders and activists in the Narmada district ahead of the inauguration of the statue. The police went knocking on the doors of several tribal activists and leaders in Kevadia, Rajpipla and Dediapada talukas (blocks), detaining them under IPC section 68, fearing disruption of the government programmes on Wednesday.
“What is shocking is that they were detained in an unconstitutional manner. The detention was carried out after 6 pm and there were also two females in the raid at Kevadia. We have heard that around 5,000 police personnel are going to detain around 50 tribal leaders by midnight. Why are they so terrified of tribals,” asked Anand Mazgaonkar, a social activist working for the tribals.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, that is upbeat over the grand show of prowess, is calling the voice of protests a ‘political conspiracy’. “There is no dissent as the tribals are happy with the project. This project is going to bring large-scale employment in the region, “BhupenChudasama, education minister of Gujarat told India Today TV.
The Congress on Tuesday said the “real tribute” to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would be that his order banning the RSS should be placed at the foot of the ‘Statue of Unity’ in Gujarat.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Anand Sharma, at a press conference, alleged that the BJP does not have any idols of its own. He said Patel was a Congress leader and also a former president of the party.
BJP Gujarat president Jitu Waghani blamed the Congress for vitiating the atmosphere and politicizing the issue. “They never did justice to Sardar Patel. They did not even award him the Bharat Ratna. And today when Modiji is paying such a grand tribute to Patel, they are trying to oppose him here as well,” he said.