PM Modi’s ambitious project: The story behind the making of Statue of Unity
The foundation-laying ceremony, on October 31, 2013, kick-started then Gujarat chief minister Narendra 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.
Eight years after proposing the ambitious project to his cabinet in 2010 ahead of his 10th year as Gujarat chief minister and exactly five years laying its foundation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will Wednesday inaugurate the giant Statue of Unity commemorating India’s first home minister Vallabhbhai Patel, who played a decisive role in the country’s unification following independence from British rule.
The daunting scale and nature had raised scepticism even within a section of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about his government’s ability to execute the plan. But in October that year, Modi made his plan public. “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,” he had said.
Eight years later, a consortium of world class construction companies executing 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 worked on the statue, which will stand in centre of a pond filled with the dam’s overflowing water.
Others may have had their doubts about the feasibility of the project, but Modi knew just what he wanted even before its groundbreaking, says chief secretary JN Singh.
“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)... match the stature of Sardar. And, where but in the vicinity of Sardar Sarovar Dam in Narmada district,” 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 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 for the inauguration, exactly 5 years later on October 31, is being seen as the beginning of Modi’s campaign for a second term in the 2019 general election.
Nation’s new Icon
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 and melted down for use. 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). And there is a Shrestha Bharat Centre at the feet of the statue, which will also house a research facility for agriculture and tribal development.
Besides galleries with light and sound shows and a museum on the life and times of Sardar Patel, the project also incorporates has a 52-room, 3-star hotel, and auditorium.
“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 underlined the monument’s importance at the foundation-laying ceremony. “The world should know Sardar saab’s immense contribution in building India,” he said.
Teams comprising historians, artists and academicians studied various Sardar Patel statues across India before they 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 worked along with his father Ram on the design, said.
The Sutars made three models of 3 ft, 18 ft and 30 ft in height. When the 30 ft model was given the go-ahead, a 3D soft version was made, based on which Chinese foundry Jiagxi Tongquing Metal Handicrafts Co. Ltd did the bronze cladding 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, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra converge. It also offers a bird’s-eye view of Gujarat’s lifeline -- the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The statue’s base, 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.