World’s ‘tallest statue’ a ladder for Indian PM Modi to climb to top post again?

Mahesh Trivedi

Published: Updated:

Some 3,000 laborers and 300 engineers are sweating and slaving to complete the world’s tallest statue in India by October 25, just in time for its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31, only a few months ahead of the crucial general elections next year.

The controversial 182-meter concrete-steel-bronze acrolith being speedily built for the last four years on a rocky islet in the midst of the swirling waters of the Narmada river in Modi’s home state of Gujarat is a lofty tribute to the country’s first home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known for his iron will and indomitable courage.

The successful completion of the Rs 30-billion Statue of Unity on the dot – a gargantuan task – despite several stumbling blocks in the form of noisy protests by environmentalists, affected villagers, non-government organizations and opposition politicians could put Modi on pedestal and help him emerge triumphant at the hustings once again.

Gigantic dam

After all, the towering monument to the Iron Man of India has been constructed at a faster pace (4.5 meter a week) than the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s 828-meter Burj Khalifa (3.18 meter a week), though the world-class consultant for the two unique, imposing structures is same – Turner Construction of the United States (US).

Interestingly, the colossus of Sardar overlooking even the gigantic 122-meter Sardar Sarovar dam 3 km away will be 182 meters high, surpassing the record of China’s 153-meter Spring Temple Buddha, and will be almost double the height of New York city’s famed ‘Statue of Liberty’ as also about five times the height of the statue of ‘Christ The Redeemer’ in Rio de Janeiro.

Indeed, the magnificent memorial spread over 20,000 square meters of project area will also be 10 meters taller than the earth’s highest, 172-meter statue of Crazy Horse Memorial being carved out in Mount Rushmore, South Dakota in north-central US.

Research center

According to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who visited the site recently, the grandiose Statue of Unity built with 140,000 square- meter concrete, 18,500-tonne steel, 70,000-tonne cement, and 2,000-tonne bronze will be a world-class monument with bells and whistles like a stunning museum, a high-tech convention center, an amusement park, a memorial garden, a 50-room three-star hotel and a research center.

What’s more, a boat ride will take people from various points on the Narmada river bank or from the Sardar Sarovar dam on the fifth longest river in the Indian subcontinent to the site, which will be a big draw for tourists, what with a lift carrying visitors to the top of the structure for a breath-taking view of the picturesque surroundings from the Sardar’s eye at a height of about 600 feet.

Modi, who is hailed as ‘Chhote Sardar (Junior Sardar) by his true-blue fans for ruling Gujarat for 13 years with an iron fist, calls his pet project the ‘Statue of Unity’ given the fact that it was the Sardar, as Deputy Prime Minister of free India, who brought about the merger of 565 semi-autonomous princely states and British-era colonial provinces with the Indian Union.

Political capital

Ironically, Sardar Patel was the one who, as home minister, had banned the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) – to which Modi belongs – after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in January 1948.

Says senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia: “The Sardar was a true friend of laborers, farmers, Dalits and other economically weak classes with a liberal-democratic ideology but Modi and his party are out to make political capital out of his name without following the Iron Man’s thoughts.”

While tree-huggers say that the Sardar would never have liked Rs 30 billion being squandered on building a statue, social activist Medha Patkar of the anti-dam movement feels that nothing was being spent on education and development of the villages uprooted for building the dam, and now 70 more villages face the danger on account of developing tourism in the region around the statue.

Steel frames

However, Modi’s party, the Bhartiya Janata Party, which rules Gujarat as well as at the Centre, has been tomtomming the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative but did not mind ordering 5,000 bronze panels for the statue from China and massive steel frames from Malaysia.

The BJP rulers also made light of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India which objected to five government-owned oil companies being asked to loosen their purse strings and chip in with Rs 1.5 billion for the Statue of Unity in the name of corporate social responsibility. Maybe, all is fair in politics when elections are around.