India unveils the world’s tallest statue
New Delhi: India has unveiled the world’s tallest statue, which cost 29.9bn rupees (£330m; $430m) to build.
The 182m (600ft) high structure in the western state of Gujarat is a bronze-clad tribute to independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the “statue of unity” would serve as a major tourist attraction.
But locals say this is as wastage of public money and that the funds could have been put to better use.
Modi, who unveiled the statue at a grand inaugural event, said it is “a symbol of India’s integrity and resolve.”
Air Force planes showered flowers on the statue, which was designed by decorated Indian sculptor Ram V Sutar.
According to local reports, thousands of policemen have been deployed across the district, which has witnessed incidents of violence and protests over the effigy. Police also detained farmers and tribal activists who were protesting on Tuesday.
The statue has become a rallying point for local farmers who are demanding compensation for land that they say has been acquired by the government for various projects, including the construction of the memorial.
The Gujarat government is reported to have paid more than half of the funds for the statue, while the remainder came from the federal government or public donations.
The memorial has been seen as a pet project of Modi, who like Patel, was born in Gujarat. He commissioned the statue when he was the state’s chief minister in 2010.
It is nearly twice as tall as New York’s Statue of Liberty. And it has surpassed the height of the Spring Temple Buddha in China which, at 128m, was previously the tallest in the world.
But it won’t remain the world’s tallest statue for long. The government in the western state of Maharashtra is constructing a memorial to the Maratha warrior king Shivaji that is estimated to be 190m tall.
Patel was India’s first interior minister and deputy prime minister. He was known as the “Iron Man of India” after he persuaded feuding states to unite and become part of the Indian state after independence.
While campaigning in 2013 to become prime minister, Modi said, “Every Indian regrets that Sardar Patel did not become the first prime minister”.
In recent years, Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has embraced Patel in an attempt to claim his legacy. While Congress party politicians say Patel was a member of their party, the BJP says the freedom fighter’s legacy belongs to everybody.
Officials expect that the site, located some 200km (125 miles) from Gujarat’s main city, Ahmadabad, will attract about 2.5 million annual visitors and will help boost local economy.
Visitors can go up to the viewing gallery, which is located near the chest of the statue at a height of 153m.
But locals, including farmers, are sceptical.
“Instead of spending money on a giant statue, the government should have used it for farmers in the district,” Vijendra Tadvi, a farmer who also worked as a driver on the statue’s construction site, told BBC Gujarati’s Roxy Gagdekar.