India yesterday inaugurated the world’s biggest statue with pomp, fireworks and tight security, amid an outcry among local groups over the cost of the 182m reproduction of Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Activists said about a dozen of their leaders had been detained before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially opened the site, with an air force jet flyover, helicopters showering flowers on the statue and fireworks in the green, orange and white national colors.
“Today is a day that will be remembered in the history of India,” said Modi, who hailed Sardar Patel’s “strategic thinking” in bringing together the disparate country after independence in 1947 and the Statue of Unity as “a symbol of our engineering and technical prowess.”
Photo: AFP / India`s Press Information Bureau
However, around the statue in a remote corner of Gujarat State, more than 5,000 police guarded the huge site, where construction work took nearly four years and hundreds of Chinese were among the 3,500 workers.
Anand Mazgaonkar, a community group leader in Narmada District, said plainclothes police took away 12 people late on Tuesday to the local police headquarters.
Police denied they had made any detentions, but authorities took no chances in case community groups staged protests to demand compensation for land taken to erect the Statue of Unity, which cost 29.9 billion rupees (US$400 million).
“Police patrolling has been intensified in the wake of protests by the local tribal community and leaders. Drones and helicopters will be keeping watch on the entire area,” Narmada police inspector general Abhay Chudasama said ahead of the ceremony.
The heads of 22 local villages signed a letter calling on Modi to stay away from the inauguration.
Posters of Modi with Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani were torn down or had their faces blackened over the weekend. Police kept watch on posters put in place of the torn ones.
“Tribal groups have been exploited by different governments, the ruling BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] is repeating it again,” local legislator and community group leader Chotu Vasava said. “I am not against Sardar, but what is the use of the statue if the people on the land have to suffer and are moved from their homes?”
More than 80 percent of the local population are from tribal groups with special protected status.
The Gujarat government said the 185 families moved to make way for the statue had been compensated and given 475 hectares of new land.
Modi, whose nationalist government has made the statue one of its flagship projects, paid tribute while the air force jets roared overhead and dance troupes performed.
Sardar Patel’s name had been largely overshadowed by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics since 1947, but Modi-inspired nationalists have sought to put their hero back in the forefront.
The statue is more than twice the size of New York’s Statue of Liberty and also dwarfs the 128m Spring Temple Buddha in China. It is made up of nearly 100,000 tonnes of concrete and steel.
Online booking to visit the Statue of Unity has opened with a 350 rupee (US$4.75) admission fee for the 153m observation deck.
Authorities hope the statue will attract 15,000 visitors a day to the remote corner of Gujarat, which is about 100km from the nearest city.
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