India is on its way to building what will be the world’s tallest statue, honoring Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the country’s first home minister and one of the founding fathers of the Republic of India.
Named the “Statue of Unity,” the monument is slated to be about 600 feet tall, nearly twice the size of the Statue of Liberty (305 feet) in New York and more than four times higher than Christ the Redeemer (130 feet) in Rio de Janeiro.
The structure, a pet project of Narendra Modi, opposition leader and chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, is to be built on an island in the Narmada River and is expected to take about four years to complete. Authorities have also encouraged citizens to contribute to the project by donating scraps of metal and tools to be used in the statue’s construction.
“People come to see the Taj Mahal, flock to America for the Statue of Liberty and France for the Eiffel Tower. Now people from all over the world will come here to see this wonder,” Modi said during the inaugural ceremony of the construction on Thursday, the 138th anniversary of the birth of Sardar Patel, often known as the “Iron Man of India.”
“We have asked farmers from every village in India to give old pieces of their agricultural tools, just 200 grams or 400 grams would do,” Modi said from the site at Kevadia, 105 miles from Gujarat's biggest city Ahmedabad, AFP reported.
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According to reports, the total cost to build the “Statue of Unity” is estimated at about $340 million, which will be comprised of both public funds and private donations. Once completed, the new statue will surpass the 420-foot Spring Temple Buddha in China's Henan province, currently the world’s tallest statue.
The memorial is seen by some as a political maneuver from Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, as it honors a man who was associated with the ruling Congress Party, the main rival of the BJP in the upcoming national elections in 2014. The iron-and-bronze statue of Sardar Patel with its theme of national unity is also considered to be an effort by Modi to create a secular image of himself among India’s 1.2 billion people.
Sardar Patel was a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, and being staunchly secular in his outlook, he opposed the 1947 partition of British-ruled India into Hindu majority India and Muslim Pakistan. Patel joined the Congress Party in 1934 and worked with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India.
While the Congress Party has been criticized by many for neglecting Patel’s legacy, Modi has been quick to use the same to his advantage ahead of the national elections.
According to some opinion polls, Modi is more popular than the Congress Party’s Rahul Gandhi, and is also favored by India's business community for his pro-investment policies and the rapid economic growth in Gujarat, Reuters reported.