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Statue of Unity? Expressionless, unconcerned with Sardar's fight for farmers, tribals

By Ravi Kunchimanchi*
My main problem with the statue of Sardar Patel is that it looks like an enlargement of a passport size picture. It may be the tallest statue but does it make an impact? Built to mimic a photograph, devoid of any artistic license, with hands to the side just dangling doing nothing, this is the statue that is supposed to depict unity and pay homage to Sardar Patel.
If we look at the Statue of Liberty with the torch held up in the air, it conveys the thrill of freedom. A Gandhi statue with his long stride and the walking stick conveys motion -- depicting the movement that brought us Independence. A statue of Mother Teresa shows the love and care in her face for the orphan child in her arms.
 An Ambedkar statue with a finger pointing the direction we are headed with India's progressive constitution in his other hand pays homage to the person who headed its writing. A meditating Buddha statue fills us with peace and tranquility. The 50-inch statue of the Fearless Girl in front of the Charging Bull on Wall Street may be tiny, but shows the power of women.
Thousands of crores of public money have been spent on a statue that is supposed to show unity, but fails to depict it in its look. Instead it appears to stand as a symbol of how much has gone wrong in the Narmada valley and in our nation. It shows a Patel who appears to do nothing for the adivasis and farmers inhabiting the Narmada valley from where they have been uprooted to pave the way for the large dam and the statue. It appears to show the iron will of the state that humbled and humiliated a river valley civilization that surrounds it.
The Sardar Sarovar dam is one of the largest dams in the world -- it could have been smaller displacing far fewer families, considering that the upstream dams already hold Gujarat's share of Narmada waters anyway and are legally obliged to release it throughout the year in a regulated manner. But the governments and courts chose not to listen to the voices of the Narmada valley people.
The Sardar Patel statue could have been a true homage, respecting the people of the Narmada valley, built along with their artistic tastes and talents, if only the state had not seen the people's struggle as being something to be unjustly dealt with, but as something to really integrate into our planning and rebuilding processes. Surely then it may not have been the tallest in the world, but it would stand head and shoulders above this one in its impact.
Sardar Patel was a freedom fighter who integrated many territories under the Indian union after independence. India has artists and sculptors that could have done something much more imaginative, than just build a huge statue that shows the power of the state over the people in a region that witnessed one of the greatest non-violent movements against state excesses post independence.
Sardar Patel's idea of a United India likely went beyond his desire to merely see a contiguous map of India. One can only guess that his vision of unity, justice and governance included everyone and especially, the most marginalized. Sardar Patel was a towering figure who inspired a generation of Indians. 
Like his life, a memorial for Patel could have served as a model for the future - in how it looked, in what it stood for and most of all in the humility with which it was built and integrated into the local region, so that there would not be thousands of displaced families opposing it.
---
*Founder, Association of India's Development, charity organization, based in US

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