Sardar Patel Statue of Unity is Narendra Modi’s political vanity project.
India will now have the tallest statue in the world, and it is the Sardar Patel Statue of Unity. It will add to the symbolic and rhetorical pride that Indians like to revel in these days.
If you are one of those people who think this will bring loads of pride and millions of foreign tourists to our country, let me ask you one question: Which was the tallest statue in the world till now?
If you said Statue of Liberty, you’re wrong. You are one of the many people in the world who have no idea where the tallest statue is. And, this really goes on to show how valuable an achievement the Sardar Patel Statue of Unity is. By the way, the tallest statue in the world was the Spring Temple Buddha in China. But don’t be embarrassed if you have never heard of it. It is never even listed in the top 10 tourist attractions in China. The Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and the Forbidden City are the top three tourist attractions in China. Guess what’s common between them? They are all historical and cultural wonders.
Across the world, historical monuments and sites are a far better tourist magnet than any modern construction. That is why the Eiffel Tower gets almost 7 million tourists every year compared to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which gets 2 million tourists despite being the tallest building in the world.
There’s no reason to believe why the Statue of Unity would attract more tourists than India’s top historical wonders like Taj Mahal or Amber fort. It is another matter that BJP MLA Sangeet Som tried his best to denigrate Taj Mahal for his politics.
The Sardar Patel statue is about political symbolism, and does not add to India’s rich culture and history. Our country is, in fact, overflowing with historical and cultural monuments but we hardly have the money to preserve them. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has over 3600+ monuments under its custody, including 36 world heritage sites. It has to reach out to the private sector to adopt the monuments. In fact, ASI spent more money to build its new headquarters than it did on conservation of the monuments in 2017.
Moreover, only 116 monuments have entry tickets, which can earn revenue. Upgrading services at these monuments, including at the Taj Mahal, would give tourism a better boost than spending Rs 3,000 crore on one political statue.
Economically, this statue makes no sense either. The Taj Mahal is the most visited tourist attraction in India, which earns an annual revenue of Rs 25 crore from 8 million tourists. It would be optimistic to hope that the Sardar Patel Statue of Unity will get even a tenth of that number. But even if we assume that the Statue of Unity becomes as popular as the Taj Mahal, it would take more than 120 years to just break even. Add to that the maintenance cost, and it probably will never even become profitable. One can argue that visitor centres, museums and restaurants would help generate revenue but how much of that money will end up in government treasury?
The entire Sardar Patel statue project costs approximately $430 million (Rs 3,000 crore). Of which, the cost of just the statue (182 metres) is nearly $200 million (Rs 1,347 crore). The Spring Temple Buddha statue had cost $18 million (128 metre). Even with inflation, it is unfathomable why it is 10 times higher here.
Thousands of tribals will hold a mass protest against the statue because their lands were taken away. The statue is also made with the help of Chinese workers. With so many question marks on the Statue of Unity, all we have is the justification of political benefit.
But this isn’t be the first time Indian politicians have indulged in political vanity projects of building statues – albeit not at this scale.
In the 1990s, Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao dreamed of a tall 440-tonne granite Buddha statue in the Hussain Sagar Lake. He was inspired by his visit to New York’s Statue of Liberty. But even before the statue was installed, it fell off the barge that was transporting it and lay flat in the waters for long, causing him much grief.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also inaugurated a tall statue of Raja Bhoj along the Bhopal lake – obstructing the view for many residents. At the inauguration ceremony, Chouhan said he will try to bring back Bhoj’s goddess’ statue, ‘Vagdevi’, from the British Museum.
Modi only took this trend a notch above everyone else and, in his characteristic style, aimed for it to be the world’s tallest statue. Ask yourself this: If Iron Man Sardar Patel was alive today, what would be his response to this gigantic blunder?
The author is an activist and YouTuber
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