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Statue of Unity: One statue, two visitors, different views

How the unveiling of the world’s tallest statue triggered conflicting emotions in two citizens at its opening.

india Updated: Nov 02, 2018 15:34 IST
Snigdha Poonam
Snigdha Poonam
Hindustan Times, Sandhu Bet
World tallest statue,Sardar Patel Statue,Sardar Patel statue
World’s tallest statue - The Sardar Patel statue that was inaugurated on  October 31 in Gujarat(HT File)

Hiren Patel stood out among the thousands of people awaiting the inauguration of the world’s tallest statue in Kevadiya. He wore dark glasses, a bright yellow watch, and sported ‘Om’ tattoos on both arms. Seated in the VIP tent behind the statue complex, the young man was making a video call on his mobile phone and asking the person at the other end, in an American accent, if he could guess where Patel was.

Patel travelled across an ocean to witness this moment in Gujarat’s history.

A resident of California, the small-time businessman saved up to fly home for the occasion. Asked if he is a fan of Sardar Patel, he nodded.

“I am a fan of Narendra Modi,” he added, somewhat surprised that anyone would wonder about his reason for being here.

In 2014, Patel missed Modi’s victory speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City because he couldn’t afford the domestic air ticket. He took no chances this time.

Patel wasn’t the only NRI to fly down for the event, but he is admittedly among the dogged defenders of “Brand Modi” in the US. “He actively takes on anyone who criticises Modi, India or Gujarat back there,” said his friend, Jash Chaudhary, who travelled with him from their village in north Gujarat.

Working overtime in recent months to fight the flak, Patel said he hopes the event wows the world. “The statue has put Gujarat on the world map.”

He wants the global media to acknowledge India’s greatness. “Not the New York Times — it’s local — but CNN.

I think they already ran a programme saying the Statue of Unity is set to become the world’s most popular tourist destination.”CNN hasn’t yet run such a programme, but Hiran Patel isn’t going to lose his faith in the statue’s towering symbolism anytime soon.

He kept his mobile phone camera pointed at the statue as it went through an elaborate inauguration, from the Prime Minister pouring soil and water at its feet to jets showering colours from the Indian flag on it from the skies. He gaped as Modi called the 182m steel-and-bronze structure built by 3,400 workers in 33 months at the cost of ~2,829 crore an engineering feat. He nodded along when the prime minister brought up “the expression of a new India’s new confidence.”

His last word before he left the venue: “Grand.”

As Hiren Patel was driving out of the Narmada Valley, Ramesh Tadvi was asking his new friends from prison for a ride back to his village, Indrapada. Tadvi, 40, drives a taxi for a living, but when he got out of the police headquarters in Rajpipla at 3pm on October 31 he says he didn’t have “a single penny” on him to even bus it back home. Along with dozens of tribal leaders, activists and ordinary residents of villages around the site of the statue, Tadvi was detained by the Gujarat police ahead of its inauguration to maintain law and order.

“I returned home after a day’s work, had my bath and dinner and had barely sat down on a cot to relax when the police knocked at the door,” he said. It was 10pm on October 30.

“They came in and said, ‘chalna hai.’ They didn’t explain why.” As many as 75,000 tribal men and women from villages by the Narmada river planned to protest at the site on October 31. They have been claiming that the government acquired their land without adequate compensation or rehabilitation deals.

The government has denied the allegations. “The cash compensation in the rehabilitation package has been increased to ~7.5 lakh per hectare from ~3.5 lakh, in case the tribals do not want land in exchange,” said R Ninama, Narmada district collector.Tadvi doesn’t think ~7.5 lakh per hectare is a fair compensation for his 7-acre (1.66 hectares) land, which happens to lie in the way of a weir for boat rides and water sports being built 14 km downstream of the statue.

“This land is worth much more. We have heard industrialists are buying land from the government at crores of rupees. In any case, it’s not money I want from them.” What Tadvi wants from the government is a job. Not just a job for him, but also for his coming generations. “For my son, then my grandson ... according to their level of education,” he explained. At the salary of ~10,000 a month, he finds it hard to support his family of four, and isn’t sure how long he can “put food on their plates”. Yet, he insisted he wouldn’t have disrupted law and order in any way.

“All I do is go to the district collectorate and the Narmada project office every other day to place my demand. The only thing I damage are my chappals,” he said. He was going to observe October 31 as a day of quiet mourning. “No one cooked or ate in my village. I didn’t either,” he said.“They gave us food in the jail, but none of us touched it. We kept sitting and waiting for our release.”After he travelled 20km back to his village, Ramesh Tadvi left his house again at dusk, this time to see the statue.

He stood at Patel’s feet, along with packs of visitors from the tribal villages, and marvelled at the craft. “Our protest is not against the Sardar,” he pointed out. “It’s against the Sarkar.” SILIGURI:A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the world’s tallest, in Gujarat, Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling on Thursday unveiled the tallest statue of Chenrezig, a manifestation of the Buddha, in the world.

Nestled in the snow-capped mountains, the 135-feet (40m)statue of Chenrezig is located at an elevation of 7,200 metres at Sangha Choeling, 1.7 km away from Pelling, a tourist destination in West Sikkim.

“This is the world’s tallest statue of Chenrezig, for which the state government has spent ~ 70 crore.

“The foundation stone was laid in 2009 and the Dalai Lama consecrated the statue,” said Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, the longest serving chief minister in the country who has been in power since 1994.

First Published: Nov 02, 2018 15:14 IST