Ever since the unveiling of the Statue of Unity (SoU) on 31st October 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been a huge criticism of the government overspending Rs 2,989 crores for a statue and that, the money could have been used for other developmental processes. The claim that the money could have been used legitimately for other developmental activities is a far contested one. Since the statue is already an existing one now, there are other questions that must bother us, that is, about the symbolism attached to the monument and its birth in times of irony.
The social and political atmosphere of contemporary India is deeply fragmented majorly due to issues arising from religious and ideological intolerance. During the inauguration of Statue of Unity, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted about Sardar Patel’s contribution to India’s unity and encouraged the countrymen to ‘Run for Unity’; under his leadership the country was still divided by the Ram temple issue, the Sabarimala judgment, the ongoing mob lynching and cow vigilantism cases and the rift in crucial institutions of governance.
Moreover, the political class adds to the polarization by reducing great leaders of history to their favourable ideologies and in effect creating a divide among those personalities too, at least this is what is portrayed to the youth who easily get influenced by the narrative formed. It is a well-known fact that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi disagreed with each other at various events, but, they respected their differences and worked towards a common goal without contempt of any kind. To talk about any one of them, one needs to mention their contemporaries too because they complement and complete each other.
Unfortunately, PM Modi in his inauguration speech completely failed to mention Sardar Patel’s contemporaries. A notable point was mentioned on Twitter by Girish Kuber, editor of Loksatta, that it would have been magnanimous to have all party veterans for the inauguration ceremony. Indeed, it would have been an effective gesture of restoring communicable relations among the political parties by inviting all for the inauguration ceremony of the Statue of Unity. The statue, then, would have been hopefully inspiring to the political parties to work in unison in matters of development and governance.
The Statue of Unity is a perfect tourism site with a grand museum, audio-visual gallery, research centres, plush hotels, recreational spots and all the attractive services that a tourist could ask for. In just eleven days of its opening, it attracted over 1.28 lakh tourists. The underlying themes and objectives associated with the Statue of Unity focus on tribal development, employment generation, livelihood generation and overall socio-economic development of the less privileged communities of the region. Contradictorily, the immediate impact on the tribal communities has been greatly dismal in terms of unfulfilled rehabilitation and employment promises to the villagers who lost their land to the grandiosity of the statue.
On 12th November 2018, over 100 farmers from around six villages staged the dharna at the Statue of Unity complex; demanding jobs at the SoU. Moreover, the statue had been inaugurated in the face of protests, bandhs, burnt properties and the detainment of around 90 activists who fought for the rights of the tribes. It would be too early to evaluate the results of the developmental activities, if ever undertaken, under the Statue of Unity project. At present, it can be satisfactorily said that, as per Narendra Modi’s vision, the Statue of Unity can definitely serve as a source of inspiration momentarily for the one who visits the site. However, this is achieved at the cost of betraying the tribal people and villagers in the adjoining areas by grabbing on their land and means of survival. This is simply another act of failing the man who himself strongly advocated and fought for the rights of the peasants in the villages of Gujarat.
A Tribute full of sham
In the whole debate surrounding the Statue of Unity, it is the personality and principles of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel that has been in the grinding particularly through social media. The entire episode proved to be greatly disrespecting to the man’s contribution to the making of independent India. In an India where most of the times history is revisited by its political class only to distort it and to use it as a tool for further polarization of the society, driven by self-interests or self-victimization, the stature of Sardar Patel seems to be reduced to a faded monument or an object of tourism symbolizing values that are greatly ironical to the reality.
For a modest and humble leader like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who fulfilled the great task of unifying India; a grand Statue of Unity standing in a divided India amidst protests and discontent majorly among tribes and farmers, certainly failed to uphold his way of life and values. In such distress, the Prime Minister’s gift to the nation is neither a genuine nor a befitting tribute to the Ironman of India!
Dhar, D. (2018). Newsclick. Tribal Protests, Black Balloons Cloud Modi’s Unveiling of ‘Statue of Unity’. Retrieved from https://www.newsclick.in/tribal-protests-black-balloons-cloud-modis-unveiling-statue-unity
Gujarat: At Statue of Unity, over hundred villagers sit in protest, demand jobs. (2018, November 13). The Indian Express. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/gujarat-at-statue-of-unity-over-hundred-villagers-sit-in-protest-demand-jobs-5443267/
In 11 Days, Over 1.28 Lakh Tourists Visit Statue Of Unity. (2018, November 12). NDTV. Retrieved from https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/in-11-days-over-1-28-lakh-tourists-visit-statue-of-unity-1945761
Project Objectives. (2018, November 15). Statue of Unity. Retrieved from http://statueofunity.in/project-objectives
Image credit: Statue of Unity
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