The controversial Statue of Unity dedicated to India’s first deputy prime minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was unveiled today at a remote corner of India’s westernmost state of Gujarat. Standing 182 meters tall the gargantuan statue is now the tallest in the world surpassing the Spring Temple Buddha in China, which was until now the world’s biggest statue at 128 meters. The base upon which the Statue of Unity stands itself is 58 meters tall, taking the total height of the statue to nearly a quarter of a kilometer.
The statue stands on a small river island called Sadhu Bet overlooking the isolated Sardar Sarovar Dam. A bridge connects the base of the statue to the mainland. When the 420 million-dollar-project is finally completed, there will be a visitor center, a museum inside the base of the statue, a memorial garden, an amusement park, and even a hotel to accommodate tourists that the statue is expected to draw.
Visitors will be to able climb the statue to a viewing gallery located 153 meters up, or about chest height on the huge standing figure. But they will have to travel 250 kilometers from the state’s main city of Allahabad to get there.
To accommodate the structure, some 185 families, mostly tribal groups with special protected status, were removed from their homes, and those displaced by the project complain that they have not been adequately compensated. Others bemoan the colossal wastage of public money. The bronze-clad Statue of Unity will not even stay tallest for long. In two years time, an even taller statue depicting the 17th-century Marathi ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji will be completed off the coast of Mumbai. This statue will stand 212 meters tall.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was India’s first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, who successfully integrated more than five hundred self-governing princely states into the newly independent nation. His commitment to national integration was total and uncompromising, earning him the title of the “Iron Man of India.” Patel was in the running to be India’s first prime minister, but eventually lost out to Jawaharlal Nehru— a fact that has long rankled with many nationalist leaders.
Lately, Patel has become an icon for rightwing Hindus and the current ruling party. Many believe the construction of the statue was politically inclined to influence voters as India heads into a national election early next year.