News Analysis |
The world’s largest statue is set to be unveiled by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujrat on October 31. Titled as The Statue of Unity, the figure is a tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a national figure who is considered to be a unifying force for the country. However, both the use of Patel as well as the costs of the statue are raising concerns in India.
The Statue of Unity is estimated to have a height of nearly 600 feet. The current largest monument in the world which is the Spring Temple Buddha in China has a height of 420 feet ( it is 200 feet shorter than the Statue of Unity). The Statue of Unity will also be nearly double the height of the iconic Statue of Liberty in the USA which stands at 305 feet. Estimated to be built at the huge cost of 460 million $, it is projected to be a tourist attraction.
Modi’s project seeks to emphasize independence leaders who can be appropriated to the idea of India as a specifically Hindu civilization and moves the emphasis away from secular leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru.
The statue will be inaugurated on 31st October which will be the birth anniversary of Patel, who was the first home minister of India. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel died in 1950, just three years after Indian independence. He was considered close to India’s founding father Mohandas Gandhi. In fact, both shared many years together as inmates when both faced imprisonment at the hands of the British.
After Independence, he was appointed as India’s home minister as well as deputy Prime Minister. During his tenure, he oversaw the inclusion and annexation of several princely states and free territories into India. He achieved this through the judicious use of both diplomacy and coercion. It was due to these tactics, he was labeled as “The iron man of India” as well as the unifying force behind modern India.
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It is the “unifying” factor that is the reason behind the statue being labeled the “Statue of Unity”. However, many observers regard the statue as a sign of the continuing saffronization of the Indian State. According to Dr. David Alex “The association of Patel with unity is crucial to the statue. Today, the assertion of Indian unity has political meaning beyond the incorporation of the princely states into modern India. Within the Hindutva view of India, unity must be centered around Hinduism and India as a distinctly Hindu civilization.
This can be seen in the BJP’s long-standing desire to make Hindi the national language or to introduce a uniform civil code without protections for minorities. Modi’s project seeks to emphasize independence leaders who can be appropriated to the idea of India as a specifically Hindu civilization and moves the emphasis away from secular leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru. Furthermore, Patel’s reputation as an ‘Ironman’ and his willingness to use force to unify India is a counter to Nehru’s nonviolent foreign policy. Nonviolence has long been seen by the BJP as weakness, even as having ‘emasculated’ India.”
Patel was known to be a rival to the secular socialist Nehru. In fact, as a Brahmin, he chafed being put under the control of the lower caste Nehru, something which he had complained a lot about to his fellow Brahmin Gandhi. He was also considered more communal than Nehru.
Dr. Alex further states “the statue is also connected to Modi and the BJP’s promise for development and investment. Gujarat is sometimes known as the ‘laboratory of Hindu nationalism’. In Modi’s time it was also known for authoritarian leadership, communal tensions, and, according to Christophe Jaffrelot, high, if largely jobless, GDP growth.”
Patel was known to be a rival to the secular socialist Nehru. In fact, as a Brahmin, he chafed being put under the control of the lower caste Nehru, something which he had complained a lot about to his fellow Brahmin Gandhi. He was also considered more communal than Nehru. During his lifetime, Vallabhbhai Patel received criticism for an alleged bias against Muslims during the time of Partition. He was criticised by Maulana Azad and others for agreeing rapidly for partition.
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In fact, due to his rivalry, he has been seen as an alternate figure to that of Nehru. Many Hindu nationalists see him as India’s father figure as compared to Nehru. The most recent gambit by the Hindutva government is to steadfastly reduce Nehru’s stature in the Indian public and replace him with the more accommodating Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.