NATIONAL

Towering statue of Patel dedicated to the nation

Penning his thoughts:Prime Minister Narendra Modi signing the visitor’s book during his visit to the museum, exhibition and viewers’ gallery at the ‘Statue of Unity’.PTI  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday inaugurated a 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel overlooking the Narmada river in Gujarat as a tribute to the country’s ‘Iron Man’.

Dedicating the ‘Statue of Unity’ to the nation on Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary, in a ceremony that saw Air Force aircraft shower petals as they flew overhead, Mr. Modi said: “It is a historic and inspiring occasion for all Indians. I am fortunate to dedicate this statue of Sardar Saheb to the nation.”

The Prime Minister recalled the Congress leader’s contribution in unifying the country after independence as he brought more than 500 princely states on a common platform to join the Union of India.

“Without Sardar, we would not have imagined a railway line from Kashmir to Kanyakumari,” Mr. Modi said.

‘Needed a visa to Gir’

“Without him, one would need to get a visa to visit Gir forest to see lions, or visit Hyderabad to see famous Charminar,” Mr. Modi said, recalling the strategic efforts made by the first Home Minister of India in bringing Junagadh in Gujarat and Hyderabad in south India — both of which were then controlled by Muslim rulers — into the Union of India.

Built at a cost of Rs. 2,989 crore, the ‘Statue of Unity’ depicts Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wearing a traditional dhoti and shawl, towering over the Narmada River and overlooking the Sardar Sarovar dam.

The statue, described as the world’s tallest given that it exceeds the height of China’s Spring Temple Buddha by 177 feet, was built by Indian construction major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in 33 months. The statue was designed by Padma Bhushan-winning sculptor Ram V Sutar.

Flays critics

Mr. Modi also lashed out at those who had questioned the government for spending almost Rs. 3,000 crore to build the world’s tallest statue. “I find it amusing that when some people of our own country dare to see this initiative from a political view and criticise us as if we have committed a huge crime,” he said, rhetorically asking: “Is remembering the country’s great personalities a crime?”

Among those critical of the project and its cost were local tribals, whose attempts to hold a protest were foiled by the heavy deployment of police along the route to the statue. The local police even detained more than 50 activists and tribal leaders, fearing protests by them.

‘Tribals ignored’

“There is nothing for tribals, who are original inhabitants of forest lands in this area,” said local MLA Chhotubhai Vasava, who has floated the Bhartiya Bhilistan Sena. “Instead of spending Rs. 3,000 crore on building a statue, the government should have started some new scheme for tribals,” he said.

Environmental activist Rohit Prajapati, who was also detained ahead of the inaugural event, said that the statue — built on a small island in the river — would cause damage to the Narmada’s ecology.