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Statue of unity: As visitors admire the Rs 2,989-cr marvel, local tribals grumble

Tribals are protesting against a number of things relating to the Statue of Unity, from acquisition of land allegedly without adequate compensation, to rehabilitation, to employment promises that, they say, are still pending.

india Updated: Oct 31, 2018 07:23 IST
Hindustan Times, Sadhu Bet
statue of unity,Sardar Patel,Sardar Patel statue
In the days leading up to the inauguration of the Statue of Unity, some protesters took down hoardings featuring PM Narendra Modi and chief minister Vijay Rupani. (HT Photo)

An imposing bronze head rises out of the horizon at Narmada Valley in the last stretch of the 80km drive from Vadodara to the Statue of Unity, located at Sadhu Bet. The Gujarat Police takes over from that point: lined up along the jet-black road, zipping through on bikes and in jeeps, and posted at the entrance to villages along the way.

Dozens of them are huddled at the gates of the statue complex, ready for the last security rehearsal before the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday morning. “We are expecting 7,000 people tomorrow. All of them have been invited,” said Ashwin Tyagi, a visibly hassled senior police officer.

The 182m structure towers over him, almost a hundred times his size. Some workers are still perched inside the hulking statue, checking the surface and smoothening out any kinks. “I am proud of the marvel we have created in just 33 months,” says a construction worker who asks not to be named.

The ~2,989 crore project was billed as mega tourist draw and visitors have already begun trooping in from across India. “We are visiting Ahmedabad from Mumbai on business, so we thought why not,” says Ajith Vishwakarma.

His verdict? “Nice statue, great finish,” he said. “But it is too far. I doubt people will come all this way to see just one thing.” He looked up and down the structure before speaking again: “It doesn’t look all that tall from up close.” The group will drive down again in the morning, however, for the real show.Also planning to show up at the site were visitors of a different kind — thousands from tribal communities spread across the area. They are protesting against a number of things, from the acquisition of land allegedly without adequate compensation, to rehabilitation, to employment promises that, they say, are still pending.

In the days leading up to the inauguration, some of them took down hoardings featuring PM Narendra Modi and the chief minister, Vijay Rupani.

“We torn down and burnt them,” says Praful Vasava, a social activist. “Our jal (water) zameen (land), and jangal (forest) belong to us.” Govind Tadvi, sarpanch of Vaghadia village, which has ceded all of its farmland to various Narmada projects, doesn’t know if his people will be able to carry on with the protest.

“They have posted police across our villages,” he said. So, the villagers have decided to observe a day of quiet mourning. “Many people have shaved their heads,” says Vasava. Tadava added: “None of us will cook or eat tomorrow.” The government has denied the allegations and claimed that the process of providing compensation had already been initiated.

First Published: Oct 31, 2018 07:23 IST