On the eve of the unveiling of the Statue of Unity at Kevadiya Colony, as many as 16 tribal activists and leaders were detained by police from various villages across Narmada district on Tuesday for “planning to hold protests” during the inauguration of the world’s tallest statue dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on Wednesday.
In neighbouring Tapi district, at least 10 tribal activists from Vyara tonsured their heads as a mark of support to the protest call ahead of the inauguration of the 182-metre-tall statue.
Those detained on Tuesday belonged to Bhilistan Tiger Sena (BTS), an organisation floated by Jhagadia MLA Chhotu Vasava, and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) party formed by his son Mahesh Vasava in 2017. Among those detained were BTS district president Mahesh Gagubhai Vasava and district vice-president Mahendra Vasava, besides members of the two outfits.
Rohit Prajapati, Nita Vidrohi, Modita Vidrohi — daughters of late Gandhian Chuni Vaidya — were also detained. According to the police, the BTS and BTP leaders were mobilising people to join protests through social media. Police said they detained the tribals leaders and their functionaries as a preventive measure.
“We are not against Sardar Patel, but we are against the BJP government in the state which has snatched the rights of tribals in Gujarat. Our demand is that government should implement Article 244 (1) of the Constitution, and then inaugurate the Statue of Unity,” Chhotu Vasava told reporters in Surat as he, accompanied by his son Mahesh Vasava and Congress MLAs from Vyara and Mandvi — Punaji Gamit and Anand Chaudhary —opposed the unveiling ceremony of the Rs 3,000-crore statue.
“We just want to ask how tribals could benefit from the Statue of Unity. The government should come out with clear picture. We have been protesting for long, as a result of which we are getting support from a large number of tribals across the state,” Chhotu Vasava added.
The state government has been claiming that the Statue of Unity project would generate jobs for tribals in the regions as the project is likely to attract a large number of tourists. On Monday, the government said that local youths from the tribal-dominated districts in the region have been trained to work as guides at the statue site.
This comes amidst headmen of 22 villages located near the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Monday wrote an open letter to PM Narendra Modi, stating that villagers would not welcome him at the inauguration of the Statue of Unity on October 31.
Local tribal leaders have also announced a boycott of the function citing destruction of natural resources due to the memorial. “These forests, rivers, waterfalls, land and agriculture supported us for generations. We survived on them. But, everything is being destroyed now and celebrations are also planned. Don’t you think its akin to celebrating someone’s death? We feel so,” the letter, having common content and signed by sarpanchs of 22 villages, stated.
“The tribals will observe inauguration of the Statue of Unity as “Black Day”, and tribals in each and every village in Gujarat will not cook food and they will keep fast for one day. The protest will not be for single day. We have planned in detail and it will continue for few more days. We are also protesting against water issues in the tribal-dominated areas. There has been no solution from the state government,” the former MP added.
His son, Mahesh Vasava, said that they will hold a tribal rally from Umargam taluka in Valsad district to different parts of the tribal-dominated districts, talukas and villages across the state for 21 days.
The Congress MLA from Mandvi in Surat, Anand Chaudhary, also hit out at the government for neglecting the tribals and spending money on building the statue. “In the name of development in tribal areas, the rights of tribals are being snatched away. For all these years, tribals have been victims, as a result of which tribals are protesting against the Statue of Unity. We are demanding our rights from the government and to pressure the government, which is terming us as Naxals and traitors,” Chaudhary said.
“The protest by the tribals across the state should be done peacefully and nobody will take law in their hands,” the MLA added. The tribal belt from Umargaam to Ambaji, comprising 5,500 villages and various tribal organisations, have called for a bandh on Wednesday.
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