EDITORIAL | Statue of divisive politics

A view of the "Statue of Unity" portraying Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, during its inauguration in Kevadia, Gujarat. REUTERS

The 182-metre, Rs 3,000 crore statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat last week, has been presented to the country as India’s ‘Statue of Unity’. It is the tallest statue in the world and was completed in four years. The statue was conceived as a monument to Patel, independent India’s first deputy prime minister and home minister. He was a great administrator and was known as the ‘iron man’ who integrated the country by merging the native states into a union. There is no need for some bronze to reinforce Patel’s name in people’s memory, and the statue now rises to the sky as a symbol of divisive politics and wasteful spending. No-one from other parties was invited to the function, only BJP leaders and workers attended it. National unity can well be more inclusive. 

The BJP has been trying to create a pantheon for itself by appropriating freedom fighters and national leaders like Gandhi, Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and Baba Saheb Ambedkar. The appropriation is done by misinterpreting and misrepresenting their ideas, public positions and activities. The BJP’s intellectual and political predecessors had bitterly opposed Gandhi, but it praises him now. The party has put Patel on a very high pedestal because, apart from being from Gujarat, he can be presented as a counterweight to Jawaharlal Nehru, whom the BJP loves to demonise. But Patel and Nehru were not rivals, they actually admired and complemented each other. Patel was always a staunch Congress man. His idea of national unity was different from the BJP’s and, as home minister, he banned the RSS after Gandhi’s assassination. But the party has built a politics around Patel. 

So, the idea behind erecting the statue is not to commemorate Patel as he was, but to create an image of the leader that the BJP desperately needs. It is an unreal and invented image. Modi might also like to be identified in the public mind with it. It is true that Patel suffered from some neglect. No-one would grudge him his place in history but it is not right to create a new Patel and erect a statue for him for the wrong reasons. India’s map, the map that he himself helped create, is the best memorial for him. Gandhi is also from Gujarat, but he has not been considered for a statue. The question whether it is right to spend Rs 3,000 crore on a statue is also relevant. Even if so much money was to be spent on Patel’s memory, there were better and more useful ways of spending it. 

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EDITORIAL | Statue of divisive politics

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