- Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images
- Locals are divided over a statue of the independence hero Sardar Patel being constructed in India.
- The landmark, dubbed the “Statue of Unity,” stretches nearly 600 feet tall and weighs more than 2,000 tons.
- It’s twice as tall as the US’s Statue of Liberty and has cost four years and $430 million – plus lots of land and most of the goodwill of the farmers and tribes that used to live there.
- Patel, his every expression and wrinkle reworked in bronze, was known as the ‘Iron Man of India.”
It’s big, it’s bronze, and it’s brand new. But the Statue of Unity, a landmark that stretches nearly 600 feet tall and weighs more than 2,000 tons, is dividing India.
The Guardian reports that 5,000 police shadowed massive crowds on Wednesday, as they converged on a distant corner of Gujarat state to see Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally introduce the world to its newly minted, tallest statue.
In an elaborate ceremony complete with fighter-jet flybys and rose petal-spraying helicopters, there was no sign of the protests that the four-year, 30 billion rupee ($405 million USD) monolith has attracted right up to its unveiling.
This particular corner of Gujarat state is home to largely tribal groups with historic ties to the land and a supposedly special protected status.
The chiefs of more than 20 local villages produced a letter asking Modi to stay away from the inauguration of the statue that rises twice as high as the US’s Statue of Liberty.
But, hailing the 600-foot, bronze-laden recreation of independence legend Sardar Patel a “huge” symbol of Indian prowess, Modi declared the Statue of Unity his “answer to all those who question the existence of India.”
The big bronze Iron Man of India
Patel was India’s first interior minister and deputy prime minister. He earned the title the “Iron Man of India” after uniting feuding states and principalities to form the greater Indian state after shedding the yoke of colonial Britain.
During its drawn-out construction, the Statue of Unity has been a source of sharp division. Lambasted as a profound waste of money and a white elephant that has discarded locals on a whim. The BBC reports that farmers and tribal protesters were detained as recently as Tuesday as violence flared over what has been something of a pet project for the prime minister.
The notoriously heavy handed Gujarat government reportedly relocated some 185 families to make way for India’s latest tourism mecca, compensating them with 1,200 acres (475 hectares) of new land.
Modi certainly hopes the more than 2,000-ton, astonishingly detailed rendering, remotely located 125 miles from the state capital, Ahmedabad, will become a nationalist pilgrimage for about 2.5 million visitors every year.
China will be noting that it’s South Asian rival has now well and truly eclipsed Henan’s Spring Temple Buddha ( 鲁山大佛 ) which, at 420 feet was previously the tallest statue in the world – and it did so by employing hundreds of Chinese laborers.