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Behind the making of Statue of Unity

The foundation-laying ceremony, on October 31, 2013, kick-started Modi’s 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. And its completion and inauguration, exactly 5 years later on October 31, is being seen as the beginning of Modi’s campaign for a second term in next year’s general election.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2018 07:21 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Gandhinagar/Narmada
Gujarat,Vallabhbhai Patel,Vallabhbhai patel statue
The Statue of Unity near Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadiya Colony in Gujarat(HT Photo)

In the summer of 2010, the Gujarat cabinet received a short but clear brief about an ambitious project from then chief minister Narendra Modi, who was soon to begin his 10th year in office.

The scale and nature of the project was so daunting that it raised scepticism even within a section of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Just like they were about Modi’s plans to move to the national centre stage, the sceptics were doubtful about his government’s ability to execute the plan.

On October 6 the same year, the Modi for the first time made his plan public: to build a giant Statue of Unity to commemorate India's first home minister Vallabhbhai Patel, known as Sardar, who played a decisive role in unifying the country following independence from British rule. “A tribute to the Iron Man of India. At 182 metres, not just in height, but it will also stand tall for historical, academic, national and spiritual values. It will be the first such big project in any tribal part of India and dedicated to subjects close to Sardar saab – unity, good governance and agriculture,” Modi said.

Eight years later, a consortium of world class construction companies that executed the project – Michael Graves Architecture and Designs, Turner Construction and Larsen &Toubro -- is overseeing the countdown to the October 31 inauguration of the statue on Sadhu Bet, a hillock between the Vidhyanchal and Saputara ranges located 3.5 km downstream of the iconic, 138-metre high Sardar Sarovar Dam.

Four thousand workers toiled for years to raise the statue, which will be at the centre of a pond that will be filled with overflowing water from the dam.

Others may have had their doubts about the feasibility of the project, but Modi knew just what he wanted even before its groundbreaking.

“From the very point of proposing the project, he was very clear about all the aspects– where, how and also why. It should be the tallest statue. It should be double the height of the current tallest structure (Statue of Liberty), kind of that matches the stature of Sardar. And, where but in the vicinity of Sardar Sarovar Dam in Narmada district,” chief secretary J N Singh told HT, recalling the first brief on the colossal project, which was overseen by Sardar Vallabhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Manch (SVPREM) with the then Gujarat chief minister as chairman.

Stages in the construction of the statue have coincided with turning points in the Modi’s political journey. It was announced at a time when India had begun debating a possible national role for the Gujarat chief minister. The foundation-laying ceremony, on October 31, 2013, kick-started his 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. And its completion and inauguration, exactly 5 years later on October 31, is being seen as the beginning of Modi’s campaign for a second term in next year’s general election.

Nation’s new Icon

“Tourists coming to India visit the Taj Mahal. Soon, they will also visit the Statue of Unity,” said Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani.

The first step towards connecting the entire nation with the statue was the Loha (iron) campaign, in which an agricultural tool each was collected from around 700,000 villages across India, melted and used. In all, 135 tonnes of iron was donated by farmers to support the project, for which Modi’s slogan was Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat (One India, Noble India).

A Shrestha Bharat Centre is taking shape at the feet of the statue, which will also house a researchfacility for agriculture and tribal development.

A 52-room, 3-star hotel, auditorium, galleries with light and sound shows and a museum on the life and times of Sardar Patel have been incorporated in the project.

“It will soon become synonymous with India. Not only do we plan to hold national and international summits there, but a special area in the vicinity will also be there for other states to have their own bhavans (homes),’’ said Singh.

Modi tried to underline its importance at the foundation-laying ceremony. “The world should know Sardar saab’s immense contribution in building India,” he said. Narendra Modi has built other big projects in his home state.

“We should know out history to get inspired...we built Shaymji Krishna Verma memorial in Kutch, state-of-the-art convention centre, Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, and revived tourism on in Buddha circuit,” he has remarked, maintaining, “Gandhi and Sardar did not belong to the BJP. They had no problem when I built Mahatma Mandir.

But they (opponents) do not like me to build a Sardar memorial. His legacy cannot be divided. It is ours.”

The making

Teams comprising historians, artists and academicians, after studying various Sardar Patel statues across India, zeroed in on a design proposed by Noida-based sculptor Ram Sutar.

“The Statue of Unity is a bigger replica of the Sardar Patel statue at Ahmedabad international airport.

The expression, posture and pose justify the dignity, confidence, iron will as well as kindness that his persona exudes. The head is up, a shawl flung from shoulders and hands are on the side as if he is set to walk,” Anil Sutar, who has worked along with his father Ram on the design, said.

They made three models of 3 ft, 18 ft and 30 ft in height. When the 30ft model was given the go-ahead, a 3D soft version was made, based on which the Chinese foundry Jiagxi Tongquing Metal Handicrafts Co. Ltd has done the bronze cladding that makes for the exterior, and forged an internal concrete and iron structure.

“Between 2013 and 2018, we visited the Chinese foundry nearly 10 times to oversee intricate details like sandal shape, face wrinkles, shawl folds and nails. A huge thermocole replica of the shoulders and head was done to finalize the jaw bone, eyelids, retina size, eyes-ears, among other things,” Sutar said.

“Along with a microscopic view, we took the picture of the thermocole replica from a 10th storey building before sealing the details,” he added.

Over 5,000 bronze panels, made in China, were shipped for building the statue. “It is just 8%’’ (of the cost), argued Singh in response to opposition party jibes that the statue had been Made in China.

From 157 metres, around the chest level, a visitor’s gallery with the capacity to accommodate a batch of 200 people offers a view of the Satpura and Vidhyanchal mountain ranges where the borders of Gujarat converges with Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. It also offers a bird’s-eye view of Gujarat’s lifeline -- the Sardar Sarovar Dam.The base of the statue , with an exhibit floor, will house a memorial garden and museum on a multimedia platform. From here, two elevators to carry 40 people each at a single time will take visitors to the viewing gallery.

First Published: Oct 14, 2018 07:19 IST