After years of planning, India will finally unveil the biggest statue in the world. Located in Gujarat, the State of Unity, a homage to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is a monument that is dedicated to his legacy and efforts for uniting India. The colossal statue stands tall lording over the mighty Narmada-the lifeline of Gujarat. These are two powerful symbols amongst the many that have defined Gujarat’s legacy.
But as Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Rupani plan to unveil it, there is an unnecessary controversy over why this statue is being constructed now and about the cost of it and if it is at all necessary. Let’s talk about the first charge being levelled that this how the Lok Sabha campaign for 2019 will start. The other charge being levelled is that the people don’t relate to it. Both are contradictory. One cannot say that people don’t care about statues and also allege that the government will get more seats because of this in Gujarat and will start their campaign from Oct 31, 2018.
In fact such a statue should be the least that a nation can do for a man who united it in 1947. Never mind that India only remembered this son in 1990 with a Bharat Ratna- more than 4 decades after he passed away. On the other hand- his contemporary Jawaharlal Nehru had already awarded himself the Bharat Ratna a long time earlier. The reason why Patel is being remembered today is because he had been forgotten by the governments that came before.
As far as contributing to the modern history of India, without Patel we would not have had the India that we know of in the first place. Mind you, none of these questions about statues and museums ever came up when Teen Murti Bhavan or 1 Safdarjung Road were converted into museums. We were told that these were tributes to Prime Ministers of India and we accepted that. But now after six decades, when something is finally being done that is befitting the legacy of the Iron Man of India, we are given bizarre theories.
I agree with the left when they say that Sardar’s legacy cannot and should not be a political issue. But do they have an explanation for why they ignored Sardar all these years. Their fear that the first family of Congress will get offended with Sardar getting the prominence was so huge that his legacy was not given the importance that it deserves.
I am not even going in to facts that this is not just a statue and how there are various facilities being built around it that will boost the tourism and economy of the state. If the Statue of Liberty, Christ the Redeemer and others can be tourist attractions then why not this one. If you go to Washington DC, you will find various places that pay tributes to the legacy of the people that built United States. In India when you do that for anyone except the Nehru Gandhi family, your motives are questioned.
The hotel and museum being built in the complex will provide jobs and tourism opportunities. Why we are so ashamed of celebrating what is ours and our remarkable achievements is a question Indians need to ask themselves. The other statues that I mentioned above only became popular and iconic when the citizens embraced them talked about them and spread the word. Unlike the other statues, the history of the man in whose honor this is being constructed is a more phenomenal story than the monument itself.
Can this be made sustainable and can more creative methods be applied to ensure a steady revenue generation is a question to which the answer will only come in days to come. But calling it ‘“paternalistic” public art’ only exposes idiocy of another level. The most ridiculous criticism that I have seen comes from this piece that calls it “a nod to his Hindu political base, a landmark site in his home state, and a showcase of the nation’s growing prosperity and status as a rising global power.”
Now how in the world is this a nod to a Hindu political base? Honoring the first Home minister of India and the man who saved India from being broken into fragments is a nod to the Hindu base? Such nonsense is why the commentators criticizing it end up looking like fools. Sardar Patel is not a BJP icon or a Congress icon. He is an Indian icon who was failed by his own country. That the statue is in PM Modi’s ‘home state’ is because (surprise, surprise) that’s where Sardar Patel is from as well.
One the most interesting facts about Sardar is that after he passed away, none of his children came forward to inherit his legacy. Unlike his contemporary who ended up being known for a dynastic takeover of a party, his kids stayed far away from Delhi. In fact most Indians would not know the name of his children, Maniben Patel and Dahyabhai Patel as my colleague Sunanda Vashisht had pointed out in her lecture on Sardar last year.
The mistreatment of Maniben after the death of Sardar by his own party is very well known. It is alleged that PM Modi did this in Gujarat to boost his party’s fortunes in Gujarat. I think that this is as far away from the truth as possible. So far, Delhi has failed Patel and hence a monument to commemorate his legacy was commissioned in Gujarat. There can be of course many theories on Sardar Patel with people agreeing or disagreeing with him. One thing that you cannot take away from the man is his role in shaping the India that we see today. The statue and the museum is a tribute to that legacy. That story needs to be told many times to fellow Indians and citizens of the world. How a 75 year old leader travelled the length and breadth of the country in an era where phone connectivity was not even there in all parts of the country, and yet united 543 princely states to form the geographic identity that we call today as India.
This man cannot be a right or a left wing icon. He is a national treasure. And his story will continue to inspire people for years to come. I have not even gone into his sacrifices for the freedom struggle, the satyagrahs and many more events that shaped him. But when there are ridiculous allegations made about a tribute to one of India’s most glorious sons, that needs to be called out.