A divisive ‘Statue of Unity’
India has just erected the biggest statue in the world as a pointed political message, said Pranshu Rathee. At nearly 600 feet, twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, the monument to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel—who forged a united India out of 565 Indian princely states and colonial provinces after British rule ended in 1947—towers over Gujarat. At a cost of more than $500 million, the iron statue is intended to promote Hindu nationalism, the ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP wants Indians to see Patel, the “Iron Man of India,” as India’s primary founder, rather than Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, who made India a secular state. The government is calling the Patel monument the “Statue of Unity.” Locals in Gujarat, though, are angry. The government relocated 75,000 tribal families to build the statue, and some two dozen village leaders wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi complaining that the project was an insulting waste of money, considering that they were “still struggling” to provide basic infrastructure “for schools, hospitals, and drinking water.” Modi didn’t listen. Instead, the BJP government has commissioned an even taller statue, of the 17th-century Hindu warrior king Shivaji, slated to stand off the coast of Mumbai.