India unveils world's biggest statue in Modi's home state of Gujarat

India unveils world's biggest statue in Modi's home state of Gujarat
The 182m-tall statue is a tribute to Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
PHOTO: AFP

SARDAR SAROVAR DAM, India - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday (Oct 31) unveiled the world's biggest statue to mark the 143rd birth anniversary of Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

"This is a project that we had thought about during the time I was the Chief Minister of Gujarat," Mr Modi said at the launch ceremony at the foot of the 182m-tall statue.

"Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel worked for the unity of the nation... Today is a day that will be remembered in the history of India. No Indian will ever forget this day," he said.

Mr Modi, whose nationalist government has made the statue one of its flagship projects ahead of a national election next year, arrived in Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad on Tuesday night.

Sardar Patel played a key role in unifying India after its independence in 1947.

Gujarat government chief secretary J.N. Singh said that dance troupes from across India would perform at the inauguration.

"Air force planes and helicopters will shower flowers on the statue during the unveiling," he told reporters.

The statue is more than twice the size of New York's Statue of Liberty and also dwarfs the 128m-high Spring Temple Buddha in China, the world's next-biggest statue.

It is made up of nearly 100,000 tonnes of concrete and steel. Online booking to visit the Statue of Unity has opened with a 350 rupee (S$6.55) admission fee for the 153m-high observation deck.

The statue has been sculpted by the famous Indian father-son duo of Ram and Anil Sutar, noted for their depictions of various Indian politicians. But it has been cast entirely in China, with individual bronze pieces shipped to Gujarat to be assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Indian authorities hope the statue will attract 15,000 visitors a day to the remote corner of Gujarat, which is about 100km from the nearest city of Vadodora.

Thousands of police guarded the statue ahead of its inauguration.

Chinese labourers (above) are said to be among those working on the Statue of Unity - a monument depicting Indian leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Though Patel himself was said to be wary of China, building his statue (left) has required Chinese help

Activists said about a dozen of their leaders had been detained ahead of the spectacular opening.

Mr Anand Mazgaonkar, a community group leader in Narmada district of Gujarat state, where the statue has been built over the past four years, said plainclothes police took away 12 people late on Tuesday to the local police headquarters.

Police denied they had made any detentions. But the authorities are taking no chances in case community groups stage protests to demand compensation for land taken to erect the Statue of Unity, which cost 29.9 billion rupees.

"More than 5,000 police personnel have been deployed at various points in the 10km radius of the statue site," said Narmada police inspector-general Abhay Chudasama.

"Police patrolling has been intensified in the wake of protests by the local tribal community and leaders. Drones and helicopters will be keeping watch on the entire area," he told reporters.

Posters of Mr Modi with Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani were torn down or had their faces blackened at the weekend.

The chiefs of 22 villages around the statue signed an open letter calling on Mr Modi to stay away from the inauguration. Police guards kept watch on posters put in place of the torn ones.

Local legislator and community group leader Chotu Vasava reaffirmed a threat to stage protests on the eve of the ceremonies around the statue of Sardar Patel.

"Tribals have been exploited by different governments, the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is repeating it again," Mr Vasava said, vowing to continue protests.

"I am not against Sardar, but what is the use of the statue if the people on the land have to suffer and are moved from their homes?"

More than 80 per cent of the local population are from tribal groups with special protected status.

The Gujarat government said the 185 families moved to make way for the statue had been compensated and given 475 hectares of new land.

India is also working on a giant statue of 17th century warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, riding a horse and brandishing a sword, which should dominate the Mumbai shoreline from 2021. The current design would make it 212m high.

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