The Statue of Liberty in US asks the just unveiled Statue of Union of India 'How is liberty in your country?". Its reply: "Just like unity in your country." This conversation from a cartoon lays bare the hollowness of the propaganda ploys of politicians.
Three claims are being made about the Sardar Patel statue unveiled by Prime Minister Modi: a symbol of India's pride, the opportunity to generate income and employment through tourism, and above all an emblem of the country's unity. No doubt the size and related features of the statue are sufficient to amaze people. It is after all a statue larger than any other in the world. The famed Statue of Liberty of the US is just half of this. Quite impressive by standards of stature and physical dimensions. But is the amazement it creates one of appreciation? The answer is in the negative. An assessment that carries substance is that this does not serve to enhance the appreciation even about Sardar Patel. When Sardar Patel's statue was being unveiled, the local people were up in protest. About 1,500 farmers of four districts reacted in rage. About 75,000 tribal people across 72 villages boycotted the event. Many sat in hunger strike in protest, and some made threats of suicide. The tens of thousands who were evicted for the statue were not rehabilitated. Thousands had to be detained as a precautionary measure. Thousands of policemen who were deployed to provide security to the statue had no obligation to think of the security of the people. The project was completed without compliance even with laws mandaging survey on ecological impact. Severe damage was caused to nature, including felling of two lakh trees. How can this statue that caused severe damage to humans and nature, be a symbol of the pride of Indians?
The statue project can never be justified from the economic angle either. The government's claims revolve around its tourism potential and some jobs. But the fact is that even for the recovery of Rs 2,989 crore spent on the project, it will take decades. Add to it the crisis faced by tribals and farmers and the ecological damage, it is an absurdity as an investment. The chief capital of the statue is the wrong priorities about development and people's welfare. The numerical projections about what could have been achieved for bringing benefit to the people, with the Rs 2,989 crore spent on it, are widely in circulation. One of them goes like this: the cost of this single statue will suffice to build two IIT campuses, five IIM campuses, 2 two AAIMS (medical) centre, five large solar energy plants, and to send six missions to Mars and two to the Moon. Imagine how many stalled irrigation projects, electrification plans and infrastructre developments – which should have received to priority - were shelved for its sake!. The arrears in scholarship to Dalit students alone is reported to be Rs 8,600 crore. It is when flood-ravaged Kerala receives only a fraction of what it asked for, that 3,000 crore is invested on steel and cement. When Gujarat itself is suffering from severe drought, it is being rendered more acute by spending a huge amount. The Comptroller and Auditor General has questioned the diversion of funds from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) spending by public sector companies to the statue. And the statue, from those who boast of 'Make in India', has its exterior imported from China!
The Patel statue is named Statue of Unity. When the Sangh Parivar elements doing backseat driving of the current government, themselves pose a threat to national unity, they were the ones requiring awareness. In fact Patel himself was among those who pointed this out. Patel who had banned the RSS, also was the architect of Article 370 of the Constitution which the Sangh Parivar is now trying to repeal. The official portal of the statue project mentions that Patel was one who stood for values of unity, patriotism, inclusive growth and good governance: which of these values has Modi government spared from violation? For those who did not play any role in the freedom struggle, using a freedom fighter and India's first vice president becomes necessary not because of ideals. For, the school of thought advocating one single culture and one stream of thought, cannot absorb the plurality that Patel envisaged as the foundation of real unity. Modi and his team are more focussed on the image intended to be built through the statue. They are trying to glorify through Patel, a fascist image of a strong leader, mustering all authority to oneself. And that amounts to dishonouring Sardar Patel – not honouring him.