Look at the Statue of Unity – So Bright, It Has No Shadow?

The statue is symbolic of all that this govt is about. Look at the shiny top, not what’s happening on the ground. 

4 min read

It’s interesting that so much of the mainstream media’s coverage of the unveiling of the colossal Sardar Patel statue in Kevadiya in Gujarat, focused on aerial shots. How it looks from the sky.

It’s exactly the politics this government is hoping to preserve as crucial assembly elections are upon us, and a national one in six months. Don’t look at what’s happening on the ground. You may find then that the most disturbing thing about this 182 metre statue is that it is meant to have no shadow.


Hunger Games, ‘Border Wars’– and Tall Statues

It shines so bright from the safe and comfortable distance of a drone or helicopter or a Google map shot, that you won’t see the distress of farmers and tribals from about seventy surrounding villages. People like Lakhanbhai from Musavadi gaon, for instance. He’s among thousands of bewildered farmers with a shrinking crop on account of little or no water in their area, within a radius of ten kilometres of the great and glorious Narmada river.

Who saw how water from the dams – the Narmada and Garudeshwar – was apparently released in order for it to accumulate around the statue’s feet and make it look pretty. Where was this water when we needed it in a season of inadequate rain, they are asking. Some wrote letters in blood to Prime Minister Modi, ahead of the unveiling. Others protested by foregoing one meal.

A tribal rights activist, Rohit Prajapati was among these starving and protesting people, and was detained by the police ahead of the grand inauguration. “We weren’t planning on causing any trouble,” he said.

“We just wanted to forego a meal and gather together to share our woes.” And then he added, “But there were over 5,000 police personnel in the area. It was as if we’re stuck in some kind of border war or something.”

The Statue’s Political Significance

By all accounts, the statue being sold to the people of India and the world, as the tallest statue and the biggest tourist attraction, sits in a bed where the local residents seem unimpressed. In fact some are angry enough to say this will reflect in the way they vote in the general elections next year.

The political significance of the statue is enormous. It’s the 3D shape and form of Narendra Modi’s big campaign in 2014 that made him prime minister.

A campaign clad in iron that drew its sustenance from the legacy of Sardar Patel – the man who brought 565 princely states into the Indian Union.

In commissioning the tallest statue in the world of such a tall leader, Modi meant for it to herald a new era of big change. Now, farmers in Gujarat, living along the banks of the fast-disappearing Narmada point out, ‘it’s PR that has gone from solid metal to bronze clad to empty promises, gathering rust’.

Modi’s campaign built him as the new iron man, just like the Sardar. Modi and the Sangh Parivar tried to claim that Sardar Patel is a leader that the Congress and Nehru in particular left out.

He built India then as Modi will, now. Sans the Congress. Never mind the truth, the campaign seemed to work. And now the deliverance of the statue is timed perfectly with the next elections in mind. Except, the patina seems to be wearing off.


What About the Farmers’ Iron?

In 2014, the Sardar Patel statue commission was used to drive a massive loha campaign – volunteers and cadre from the Sangh Parivar were asked to go from farmer to farmer across the country, asking them to donate their old farming implements, so the iron could be used to build the statue of the iron man. Commissioned by India’s new ‘iron man’, the new avatar of the oldest, tallest leader, resurrecting a new, non-Congress era.

Except, where is all that iron – thousands of tonnes of it that was purportedly collected for the statue?

The Statue of Unity website only talks of its bronze cladding and says nothing about the use of the farmers’ iron. And it isn’t clear if the website is a government-owned site. So, this reporter contacted one of the senior-most ministers in the Gujarat government, the Energy Minister Saurabh Patel. She asked, “Sir, what happened to all the loha collected for the building of the Statue of Unity?”

Saurabh Patel’s reply was as bewildering as everything else about the statue. “It’s been used in the foundation,” was the minister’s reply.

Would the Sardar Have Approved of this Extravagance?

Experts in the building business claim it is very hard to imagine how old iron and steel, even if smelted and treated can have been used in the foundation at all. Especially since it would probably be a deep raft foundation, built with very high-grade steel and an enormous amount of concrete to support a statue of such staggering proportions.

And then there is the obvious problem with the spending of 3,000 crores on it at a time when farmers are in such deep distress.

Would the Sardar have approved, protesting farmers and tribals in Gujarat have been asking.

Watching in the wings is BSP leader Mayawati, as the BJP does what she once did in 2007 and they tore into her flesh for it. So much money on statues of Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, the BJP said at the time. What a waste, when farmers in Uttar Pradesh, are starving. Now, they’re busy shining this ginormous piece of metal so that all its shadows are erased. Look…they’re gone! Shadows made to vanish, from fear and desperation some say. (Beware the wrath of the biggest, tallest, strongest!).

Others point out, in the statue versus statue game, where are the alternatives?

(Revati Laul is a Delhi based journalist and film-maker and the author of The Anatomy of Hate,’ published by Context/Westland and in stores from November 30th, 2018. She tweets@revatilaul. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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