Human beings have perhaps been building statues and monuments since the beginning of history itself. From the Pyramids to the Eiffel Tower, from Discobolus of Greece to the Buddha of Bamiyan and Cristo Redentor of Rio de Janeiro, human societies have undertaken the construction of such massive projects from time to time.
Human beings have been building statues and monuments since time immemorial. (Source: Reuters)
And the Indic civilisation is the only surviving major pagan culture where idols (or statues) have played a significant role in people’s everyday lives. Notwithstanding the plunder, destruction, desecration and theft of its heritage, India is a land of statues. So, when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated to the nation this new statue of Sardar Patel on October 31, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Yet, it will be disingenuous to overlook the huge significance of the Statue of Unity.
This Statue of Unity now stands as the tallest statue in the world.
Rising 597 feet above ground in PM Modi’s home state of Gujarat, it is almost twice the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York. It dwarfs the Spring Temple Buddha in China, now the second tallest statue, by a full 177 feet. Its true significance, however, lies much beyond the spectre of height, aesthetics and architecture.
The Indian nation, Bharatvarsh, has been in existence for several thousand years. When elsewhere, people were fighting for tiny city-states, India already had a well-established notion of a grand civilisational nation. That same notion, surviving the test of time, exists in our shared memory to date.
Be it the memory of its sacred geography, its sacred texts, literature, shrutis and smritis, its Ramayana and Mahabharata, its devis, devatas and heroes – they all point to the existence of Bharatvarsh from time immemorial. It is this notion of a civilisational nation that makes a young Adi Shankara travel the four corners of this sacred land and establish mathas.
More recently, it is ostensibly the same notion that makes an unfamiliar Jawaharlal Nehru set out to ‘discover’ India. At the cost of being a trite tautologist, it suffices to say that the concept of nationhood is not something foreign to the inhabitants of the Sapta Sindhu region.
However, the transformation of Bharatvarsh into a modern nation state — as the Republic of India — was not quick but a long-drawn painful process. This new modern nation not only had to shed a significant part of its sacred geography, but it also had to heal the physical wounds of death, destruction and despair.
The one man who was instrumental in affecting this monumental transformation was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks at the Statue of Unity. (Source: Twitter, PMO)
What the Sardar could achieve in a matter of months is of epic proportions. Soon after independence in 1947, Sardar Patel ensured the unification of Bharatvarsh, a fractured subcontinental conglomeration of hundreds of princely states, into a solid union of the Republic of India. Over 500 princely states, of all sizes and complex arrangements, involving a population of around 30 crore, became part of the Indian Union singularly due to the sheer brilliance and hard work of Sardar Patel.
To put all of this into perspective, consider the European Union — after years of trying, we've just had Brexit.
Yet, this Gandhian giant from Gujarat’s countryside was reconciled to play second fiddle to Nehru in the national politics of India when it came to the allocation of power.
Despite Patel being considered a great ‘executive, organiser and leader’, Gandhiji favoured Nehru.
While some broke ranks with the Congress and Gandhiji on this issue, Patel remained loyal to both. Jawaharlal, as Professor Makkhan Lal writes in one of his articles, apparently had no support in the Congress’ supreme decision-making body for the premiership of independent India.
Mahatma Gandhi preferred Jawaharlal Nehru over Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel when it came to the prime minister's choice. (Source: The Lallantop)
“At that time, only the Pradesh Congress Committees could nominate and elect the Congress president. And April 29, 1946 was the last date for the nomination for the post of the Congress president, and thereby the first Prime Minister of India. A perusal of the Congress party documents shows despite Gandhiji having made his choice known, 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees nominated Sardar Patel. The remaining three abstained from nomination process. Thus, no Pradesh Congress Committee, the only legitimate to nominate and elect the president, nominated Jawaharlal Nehru.”
As if that wasn’t enough, “When Sardar Patel died in Bombay, Jawaharlal issued a direction to Ministers and Secretaries not to go to Bombay to attend the funeral… Jawaharlal also requested Dr. Rajendra Prasad not to go to Bombay; it was a strange request, to which Rajendra Prasad did not accede.” writes KM Munshi in his book Pilgrimage to Freedom.
Jawaharlal, and his daughter and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, received Bharat Ratnas (1955 and 1971, respectively) while still in office. While Patel would have to wait until 1991, over four decades after his death, to share it with a third-generation Nehru-Gandhi dynast.
Needless to say, the Sardar got a shoddy deal from the establishment dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The inauguration of the Statue of Unity seems an honest attempt to set the ball rolling in the right direction.