Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday morning unveiled the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity, in Kevadiya in Gujarat’s Narmada district. The 182m-tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was inaugurated to coincide with the 143rd birth anniversary of Patel, India’s first home minister. Modi pulled a lever and inaugurated the statue at a ceremony along the banks of Narmada river in Gujarat’s Kevadiya. He lead the puja ceremony with water brought in a kalash (metal pots) from 30 holy rivers, including the Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra among others. Dedicating the statue to the nation, Modi called this a significant moment in the history of the country as a proper tribute had not been given to the tall personality who had worked hard to make India’s identity“This is a project that we had conceived when I was the chief minister of Gujarat. To build the statue, lakhs of farmers from all over India came together, gave their tools, portions of soil and started a mass movement,” Modi said. The Rs 2,389-crore monument is a tribute to Patel who played a major role in integrating the princely states into the Indian Union after the partition of 1947.Three Indian Air Force planes flew past the Patel figure and created the tricolour in the sky after Modi inaugurated the giant.Patel’s grand nephew Dhirubhai, who lives in Vadodara, said the occasion was a “once in a lifetime moment” for him and congratulated the government for its excellent work. President Ram Nath Kovind, vice-president Venkaiah Naidu and home minister Rajnath Singh paid floral tributes to Patel in Delhi. Later Rajnath Singh and sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore flagged off a run for unity at the India Gate in the national capital.Other top ministers, including Nirmala Sitharaman, JP Nadda, Dharmendra Pradhan and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal flagged off the run for unity in Chennai, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar and other parts of the country.The ministers said Patel had worked hard to unite India and the statue should have been made years ago. The statue, whose foundation was laid by Modi in 2013 as chief minister of Gujarat, will dwarf the current tallest statue, the Spring Temple Buddha in China (128m), and will be almost double the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York. But the Statue of Unity will lose its crown to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial, a 192m statue under construction in the Arabian sea off the Mumbai coast, when work is expected to finish in three years.“The statue is a tribute in a real sense as here the research on agriculture and tribal development will take place. These were the subjects close to Sardar saab. It (statue) will open the floodgates of tourism in this tribal belt, bringing income to locals,” said Gujarat’s deputy chief minister Nitin Patel.Cultural groups from 29 Indian states are performing at the venue on Sadhu Bet, a hillock 3.1km away from the Sardar Sarovar Dam.Experts see the statue as the latest in a series of attempts by the BJP to lay claim to the legacy of Patel, who was a lifelong member of the Congress, at a time when a section of the Patel (Patidar) community has grown increasingly disgruntled with the BJP.The support of the influential Patidar community, which constitutes 12% of the state’s population, is crucial for the BJP to repeat its 2014 record of winning all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state. “Not just Patidars, the statue will help the BJP woo Gujaratis as it has been seen a moment for Gujarat Asmita (pride). Even over the OBC quota issue, Patidars are divided and a large section is not adamant over the demand of reservation. This section will be very pleased with Sardar memorial,” said political analyst Krishnakant Unadkat.But the inauguration is not without controversies. Scores of tribal groups from nine districts have called for a strike and as many as 11 Congress tribal MLAs and independent MLA Jignesh Mewani have supported the call. “Patels and tribals are unhappy and the drama surrounding the statue’s inauguration is uncalled for,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.