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Statue of Unity inaugurated today amid protests by tribals

While the statue towering over the Narmada river received praises from around the nation, Congress President Rahul Gandhi pointed out the irony of the inauguration

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 31, 2018 8:23:24 pm
Republic Day-like event planned for unveiling of Statue of Unity Laser lights tested ahead of unveiling of the statue on October 31. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Standing tall at 182 meters on Sandhu island of Narmada river, the Statue of Unity was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the 143rd birth anniversary of freedom fighter and India’s first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The statue, which was constructed at a cost of Rs 2,989 crore, is now the world’s tallest and twice the size of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The statue of Patel is an “answer to those who question India’s existence”, PM Modi said at the inaugural ceremony in Gujarat’s Kevadiya district. “The height of the statue is to remind the youth that the future of the country will be as huge as this.”

In Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore flagged off the annual ‘Run for Unity’ in honour of Patel’s 143rd birth anniversary. The campaign was organised in various parts of the country.

While defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb flagged off the ‘Run for Unity’ in Chennai and Agartala respectively.

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Sitharaman, besides Tamil Nadu Ministers D Jayakumar and SP Velumani, participated in the event.  freedom fighter’s statue in Gujarat. “We are attending the Run for Unity to mark that (dedication of Patel statue). Youngsters have turned up in good numbers today. They have to play an active role in the country remaining united,” she said.

Biplab Deb was among those invited to the inaugural ceremony but he chose to observe ‘Rashtriya Ekta Divas’ in Tripura. “Sardar Ballavbhai Patel unified entire India with all his might and ensured our unity. The most important thing is that he did this without any battle, not even an exchange of barb with anyone. I remember him and congratulate Prime Minister for observing his birthday as Rashtriya Ekta Divas on behalf of people of Tripura”, Biplab Kumar Deb said.

‘Systematic destruction’ of India’s institutions is treason: Rahul Gandhi

While the statue received praise from around the nation, Congress president Rahul Gandhi pointed out how every institution Patel helped build is allegedly being torn down by the ruling government. “The systematic destruction of India’s institutions is nothing short of treason,” Gandhi wrote on Twitter.

In another tweet, Gandhi said Patel was a patriot, who fought for an independent, united and secular India. “A man with a steely will, tempered by compassion, he was a Congressman to the core, who had no tolerance for bigotry or communalism. On his birth anniversary, I salute this great son of India,” he tweeted.

“The height of the statue is to remind the youth that the future of the country will be as huge as this,” said Modi.

In Uttar Pradesh, BSP president Mayawati demanded an apology from those who had flayed her over the statues of Dalit leaders her government had installed in the state.

“All those in the BJP, the RSS and company need to apologise, especially to the people of the Bahujan Samaj, for terming the statues installed by the then BSP government to honour icons like Baba Saheb Ambedkar and others as wasteful expenditure,” she said in a statement.

“The people of the country are also wondering if all this is not politics, and if the BJP really had this love for Patel why had they not put up such a massive statue earlier in Gujarat where they are in power for a long time,” she said.

The Bahujan Samaj Party chief paid tributes to Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the ‘Iron man of India’, on his 143rd birth anniversary. She said like Dalit leader Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Sardar Patel was also a nationalist and was widely respected.

Meanwhile, the CPI demanded why a bigger statue of Mahatma Gandhi was not built by the BJP, as he is the “tallest leader of Indian politics”.

“They (BJP) do not like his (Gandhi’s) secularism, that is why they have not taken up (build his statue). Instead, they have gone for Patel, who had rightist ideas,” the CPI general secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy alleged.

Tribals protest

The money spent on the statue drew heavy criticism from local tribal leaders in and around Narmada district, claiming “mass destruction” of resources due to the project.

In an open letter, addressed to Modi, sarpanches of 22 villages near the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river, wrote “We villagers want to tell you with extreme grief that we will not welcome you on October 31. Even if you come here like an unwanted guest, you are not welcome here.”

Following the protest ahead of Statue of Unity’s unveiling, in which several Ekta Yatra posters with photos of the PM and Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani were damaged, new ones featuring tribal leader Birsa Munda were put up on way to the statue. Police have been deployed to protect these. (Photo: Bhupendra Rana)

Protesting against the BJP government snatching the rights of tribals in Gujarat, tribal activists and leaders questioned how would the tribal community benefit from the statue. The protest led to the detention of 16 tribal activists and leaders.

Patel’s family members say “Congress did nothing like this”

Patel’s family members hailed the ‘Statue of Unity’ as a “befitting tribute” to the ‘Iron Man of India’, saying it would help the younger generation know about his life and it should have been done much earlier by the previous governments.

“Congress didn’t do anything like this for Sardar Patel. The statue is a befitting tribute to his contribution to the nation,” said Dhirubhai Patel, grandson of Sardar’s elder brother Somabhai Patel.

Dhirubhai, 91, was a special invitee to the ceremony this morning. Besides Dhirubhai, who lives in Vadodara with his family, the event was attended by 35 other members of Vallabhbhai Patel’s extended family.

Sardar Patel, the first Home Minister of Independent India, is credited with merging 550 princely states into the Union of India. He had used force to annex princely states of Junagadh ruled by Nawab and Hyderabad ruled by Nizam, both of whom had wished not to merge their respective states with Union of India.

Bhupendra Patel, 80, another senior member of the family, said the statue would remind the younger generation about contributions made by Sardar.

Police officers stand near the “Statue of Unity” portraying Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of the founding fathers of India, during its inauguration in Kevadia, in the western state of Gujarat, India, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave

“They will draw inspiration from Sardar Patel,” said Bhupendra, who lives in Vallabh Vidyanagar in Anand district.

He refused to comment when asked whether the previous governments did little for Sardar as being claimed by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Dhirubhai’s son-in-law Shailesh Patel, a Mumbai-based businessman, was more forthcoming.

“This (statue) was long overdue. They should have done it much earlier. The statue will spread the message of the strength of unity and of the role played by Sardar to unite the nation,” he said.

Sardar Patel Memorial Trust’s founder-secretary Hasmukh Patel, who was also among the special invitees at the event, said it was a “good decision” to build the Sardar statue.

“The younger generation needs to learn from Sardar’s life and this statue will be a unique way to do so,” he said, adding that the prime minister has “recaptured Sardar’s memory in a unique way”.

Several tourist attractions

The Statue of Unity, which opens for the public on Thursday, is expected to attract around 10,000 tourists daily, a state government official said.

A visitor can take a lift installed inside the statue which runs at a speed of 4 metres per second to reach a viewers gallery at a height of 135 metres.

The gallery will offer scenic vistas of the river Narmada, the dam and the surrounding Satpura range of hills, a state tourism department official said.

Statue of Unity inauguration LIVE Updates, pm modi, The Statue of Unity site before its inauguration by the Prime Minister. (Express Photo By Bhupendra Rana)

A museum and exhibition hall have been constructed inside the gigantic structure, depicting the life and times of India’s `Iron Man’.

The tourism department has also constructed a guest house, `Sreshtha Bharat Bhavan’, where tourists can stay.

There will be charges for visitors: Rs 120 per person for viewing the statue from outside, Rs 350 for visiting the viewers’ gallery at 135 metres.

Two Tent Cities with a total of 250 tents along two lakes near the dam, equipped with modern facilities, are also being touted as a major attraction, where one can camp in a natural environment.

Spread across 70,000 square metres, the Tent Cities will run on green energy, said the official.

A 17-kilometre long `Valley of Flowers’ is being developed along the banks of the river near the statue.

An area of 240 hectares has already been developed in the first phase of Valley of Flowers project, the official said. It will feature five nature trails for tourists.

A ‘Wall of Unity’ has also been constructed using the soil collected from across the country under a campaign launched by Modi in 2013.

A release from Gujarat chief minister’s office said the monument will be open for tourists from tomorrow.

International media

The statue, however, gained international attention. A report in the Washington Post stated that the statue “will give India bragging rights to the world’s tallest statue.” It further read, “It is considered a trifecta for Prime Minister Narendra Modi: a nod to his Hindu political base, a landmark site in his home state, and a showcase of the nation’s growing prosperity and status as a rising global power.”

Beside US media, Pakistan Express Tribue, South China Post and BBC took note of the statue of unity as well.

Along with Modi and Shah, the inauguration of the statue was also marked by the presence of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy chief minister Nitinbhai Patel.

with PTI inputs

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First published on: 31-10-2018 at 07:21:03 pm
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