Five reasons the Statue of Unity is not as wonderful as the government would have us believe

Surely Patel would not be happy to see his own statute rearing into the air, instead of better education, infrastructure and healthcare for his countrymen.

 |  4-minute read |   31-10-2018
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31 inaugurated the Statue of Unity, a 182-metre high statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister of India.  

The statue is certainly many things — it’s the tallest statue in the world, it is an engineering marvel, it’s likely to be a major tourist attraction. What is not so certain is if the statue is indeed a fitting tribute to the Iron Man of India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31 inaugurated the Statue of UnityPrime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Statue of Unity on October 31. (Photo: PTI) 

Here are five reasons why the statute is not the best way to pay tribute to a great leader like Patel.

The exorbitant cost

The statue costs Rs 2,989 crore. In a country like India, this is an obscene amount of money to spend on a statue, when millions of children die of hunger every year. The money could have been used to build a chain of schools or hospitals across the country, which could have been named after Sardar Patel. It could have been used to build a network of roads, named after Patel. It could have been used for starting a new food security scheme, named after Patel.

According to a report in IndiaSpend, the budget of the statue could have been used to fund two new IIT campuses, two AIIMS campuses, five new permanent IIM campuses, five new solar power plants or six Mars missions.

Farmers' and tribals' protests

It is actually an insult to Patel to construct his statue in such a manner that protests are held to oppose its inauguration. Farmers and tribals in Gujarat have been protesting against the Statue of Unity project for years, saying it takes away their land and livelihood, and that they have not been adequately compensated for it.

In fact, a group of farmers had threatened to kill themselves on the day the statue was to be inaugurated, because they are reportedly yet to be paid their sugarcane dues, which they had sold to a mill — named, ironically, after Sardar Patel.

Tribals angry with the project had defaced posters advertising it. The government, instead of hearing their issues, changed the posters with one featuring Birsa Munda, in the hope that the tribals would not deface “their own” hero. On October 30, 16 tribal activists and leaders of the area were detained.

The statue was built on the land of farmers and tribals, but they can hardly afford a visit to it — ticket prices start at Rs 120.The statue was built on the land of farmers and tribals, but they can hardly afford a visit to it — ticket prices start at Rs 120. (Photo: India Today)

Harms the environment      

The statue has been built in an ecologically sensitive zone in the Narmada riverbed, which, environmentalists say, has geological fault lines.

The statue is very near the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, and the construction and tourism activity damage the ecologically sensitive area.

Ever since the project was launched, activists have been pointing out that it flouts environmental regulations.

Made in China

India’s great proof of nationalism has been built with Chinese help, a nation whose products WhatsApp patriots routinely ask us to shun.

According to a report in Mint, “although the statue was designed and made in India, the bronze panels had to be cast in a foundry in China, since no such facility to handle such a huge project is available in India.”

The statue has been built in an ecologically sensitive zone in the Narmada riverbedThe statue has been built in an ecologically sensitive zone in the Narmada riverbed. (Photo: Business Today)

Instead of waiting for an Indian firm to come up with the technology, the government was in such a hurry to inaugurate the statue — maybe with elections in mind — that the work had to be outsourced to China.

Competitive pride

The building of monuments and memorials as the biggest proof of admiration for a leader can turn into a competitive sport. Already, Maharashtra is building its own exorbitantly expensive statue of Shivaji Maharaj — mid-sea, very tall, very wonderful.

What’s to prevent other states and governments from finding new icons they can use to rally public sentiment around?

It is difficult to believe Patel would have been happier to see his own statute rearing into the air, instead of better education, infrastructure and healthcare for his countrymen.

Also read: 5 things that make the Statue of Unity truly iconic

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