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Statue of Unity? Dedicating it to nation, Modi "subtracted" all that Sardar Patel stood for

By RK Misra*
The 182 metre tall Statue of Unity built on the Narmada river at a cost of Rs 2,989 crore facing the sprawling 1210 metre long sardar Sarovar dam, in Gujarat has been billed as the tallest in the world, surpassing China’s spring temple Buddha. Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dwelt at length on the legendary vision of the first deputy Prime Minister, who had unified the country and appealed to countrymen to remain united against divisive forces. 
Minutes later, Modi was hauling the opposition over the coals for opposing his mission. Clearly, he has added the tallest statue in the world to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s memorials, but has subtracted all that he stood for, in it’s dedication to the nation on his 143rd birth anniversary.
The entire area of Kevadia colony had been turned into a policed fortress after the tribals of the region made known their resolve to boycott the function. The main inhabitants of the region stood simply barred out.
The crowning irony was that while Modi extolled the virtues of the greater unifier, he was doing so to a predominantly Gujarat BJP audience. Besides the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah, the notable others on the dais were the state Governor, OP Kohli, Chief minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel, Speaker Rajendra Trivedi, and Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka governors Anandiben Patel and Vajubhai Vala respectively, who both hail from the state.
The glitz and glamour of a national build-up notwithstanding, opposition leaders and even BJP stalwarts like LK Advani were not seen. None of the 15 odd chief ministers who were invited turned up. The change of plans ostensibly ,seem to have come about after the tribals made clear their intention of boycotting the event.
Narmada district where the statue and the dam are located is a predominantly tribal district and forms part of the Adivasi flank of the state stretching from Ambaji bordering Rajasthan in the North, past Chottaudaipur bordering Madhya Pradesh, onto Dangs district neighbouring Maharashtra.
A day before the PM’s function a virtual police terror dragnet unfolded, not only in Narmada district but in the neighbouring ones as well. Over 500 tribal leaders were picked up or put under house arrest, only to be released late in the night. Even hardcore Gandhians, including women, were given the rough end of the stick by the cops.
Even earlier, posters depicting PM Modi and Sardar Patel’s statue put up in the tribal areas were either torn down or blackened by angry tribals. These were hurriedly replaced and policemen posted to guard against their removal. Said tribal leader Chottubhai Vasava, this the first time perhaps where cops were being used to protect posters against the people’s wrath.
Tribal leaders had well in advance made known their resolve to oppose the unveiling with a bandh in all the nine tribal districts of Gujarat.
”Some 100 small and big tribal organisations had joined in the call and according to one estimate almost 70,000 tribals affected by the Statue of Unity project joined in it. Reports stated that despite the cop imposed terror, the bandh was total. No food was cooked on the day in 72 of the project affected tribal villages. ”You know that amongst tribals, as in others as well, cooking fires in home remain unlit, only when the family is in mourning”, said Vasava.
Headmen of 22 of the villages situated near the dam even penned an open letter to the Prime Minister , two days before the event, clearly stating that villagers would not welcome him at the inauguration.
The ruling BJP which aligned the event with it’s electoral planning for the 2019 parliamentary polls, had lined up ‘ekta yatras’ (unity marches) using 200 chariots to cover 10,000 of the over 17,000 villages of the state both before and after the event. The lack of popular response and the poor turn-out had the party leaders sweating and ‘firmans’ were soon out to bolster presence with party cadres.
Former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta, a legal luminary himself, who subsequently quit the party states that the entire statue project is illegal, violative of constitutional provisions and steeped in financial irregularities.“My simple question to the government is who owns this project. Is it the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta trust (SVPRET),which does not have any constitutional status or the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam (SSNNL) or the Tourism Department."
According to the former chief minister, the SSNNL was created only for the express purpose of utilising the Narmada water for agricultural/ irrigation purposes. Any other utilization of this water is illegal. The government had claimed that this project would not be a burden on the state exchequer. Thereafter without any justification around Rs 3,500 crore was allocated from SSNL between 2013 and 2017 for tourism.
Thereafter the NDA government announced it as a national project and announced Rs 2,500 crore more. The Comptroller and Accountant General’s (CAG) report says that oil Public Sector Undertakings(PSUs) were forced to make over Rs 3000 crore for the project. All this makes for a total of Rs 9,000 crore of which no accounts have been made public, he added.
Activists involved with the tribal cause point out that none of the villages acquired by the government for the Sardar Sarovar project and the statue project have got the promised benefits from the government. The first six villages acquired for the Sardar Sarovar staff colonies were never recognized as project-affected and so denied compensation.
The 19 villages that were recognized as Project affected are still fighting because promises made to them were never honoured. The 28 villages on the right bank of the canal, are not allowed a drop of water for their farms, despite the scarcity conditions here. The tribals are denied their rights because they are deemed to be ignorant and voiceless.
The Sardar Sarovar funds that should have been used to complete the canal network completion for the dying farmers are being diverted to PM Modi’s vanity projects such as golf course and 5 star hotels, boating lake, tent city for the affluent and other such tourist luxuries, the tribal leaders point out.
Says former chief minister Mehta, “Modi is fond of self-boosting vanity projects like Mahatma Mandir(Rs 500 crores),Sardar statue(Rs 3000 crore or more) and the bullet train(over Rs one lakh crores), public welfare is the last of his priority” or so it seems.
Mehta has a point. India itself remains the best monument to Sardar Patel.
The stature of the tall can rarely be enhanced by the small!
Postscript: Said British Conservative Party MP Peter Bone. “To take 1.1 billion pounds in aid from us and then at the same time spend 330 million pounds on a statue is total nonsense”.
Bone was referring to Britains’s donation of over 1.17 billion pounds(over Rs 9492 crore) to India as aid in the course of over five years. Though the aid was given for social projects including womens’ rights issues, renewable energy projects and to encourage religious tolerance, the UK MP believes that it wasn’t required as India could have easily afforded money for such projects had it not invested Rs 3000 crore on the Rs 2,000-tonne statue…
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*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.com/

Comments

Anonymous said…
Govt needs tax payers' money to build more and taller statues

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