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4 November, 2018 10:18:54 AM

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The forgotten hero

Expected to be a major tourist destination, the towering statue was completed by a team of 3000 odd workers and 250 engineers
Kumkum Chadha
The forgotten hero

Till the Congress was in power, October 31 was all about Indira Gandhi and her martyrdom. It was on this day in 1984 that Sikh guards assassinated her in her official residence.

The Congress declared that as her martyrdom day and observed it thus throughout the length and breadth of the country. In the process, another tall leader and Independent India’s first deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sarkar Vallabhbhai Patel was forgotten. Patel or the Iron Man as he was popularly known was born on October 31, 1875 and died in the winter of 1950.
Once BJP came to power in the Centre it resurrected Patel and helped bring him centre-stage.  Even before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister he had announced his decision toconstruct the Statue of Unity, the nomenclature given to Patel’s statute. That the foundation stone was laid in 2013, by when Modi had been anointed Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, is another matter.
But before the politics, a statute fact sheet is in order: Ready in a record time of 33 months, the statute is the world’s tallest at 600 feet. It  stands 177 feet higher than the current world's tallest, China's Spring Temple Buddha in the central Henan province.

It is conceptualized as Sardar Patel walking on the Narmada river towards the Sardar Sarovar Dam.  The statue is plated with 1,700 tonnes of bronze and 1,850 tonnes of bronze cladding made up of 565 macro and 6,000 micro panels. The core of the statue is made up of 210,000 cubic metres of cement concrete, 18,500 tonnes of reinforced steel and 6,500 tonnes of structural steel.

Expected to be a major tourist destination, the towering statue was completed by a team of 3000 odd workers and 250 engineers.

Amajor challenge was to ensure that the statue could withstand   heavy winds of up to 130km/hour and earthquakes measuring up to 6.5 on Richter scale. Another challenge was to ensure that the the base of the structure always remains rooted. For this mass dampers of 250 tonnes each have been used.

Many have described it as an “engineering marvel” particularly because of its walking pose. A gap of 21 feet between the legs means the statue is the weakest at its base.  Had the legs been placed together it would have helped  balance its weight but that would have meant a compromise  with the aesthetics. On that score it was also important thatthe statue looks closest to what Sardar Patel looked in life.  Consequently, the services of well-known sculptor Ram V. Sutar were pressed into action who went through over 2,000 archival photographs of the “Iron Man”. He reportedly spoke to several historians to come up with a near real design. Prime Minister Modi while inaugurating the statue remarked on it being “ a symbol of our engineering and technical prowess”.

Although the statue was designed and made in India, the bronze panels had to be cast in a foundry in China, since no such facility to handlesuch a huge project is available in India. Its surface that gives it a distinct design, has been created using 553 bronze panels - each panel has 10 to 15 micro panels. Cast at a foundry in China, the panels were imported, which led to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi repeatedly targeting the government, claiming that the statue has a 'Made in China' tag. Gandhi also described it as ironic that the statue of Sardar Patel is being inaugurated, but "every institution he (Modi) helped build is being smashed."

Criticism apart, the  Congress is on a back-foot given that throughout its long rule in India, it has focussed only on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy forgetting other national icons be it Sardar Patel or Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. If the BJP is castigated for distorting history, the Congress cannot escape the blame for its lopsided version. Left to its leaders it would have confined nationalism to one dynasty as it has been prone to do and conveniently forgotten about the others. Therefore politics notwithstanding, one will have to credit the BJP and more so Modi for bringing back the focus on the forgotten heroes of India be it Patel or Bose. Not many days ago, Modi recalled Netaji’s contribution and paid tributes to the leader on his 121stbirth anniversary.

At this point it is important not to miss out the political angle to the BJP’s move. The general elections are less than a year away and it is thus important for it to appropriate the legacy of national icons. However much the BJP may flag Patel and his legacy, it is well known that Patel was not one of their own. it was Sardar Patel who banned the RSS, a move he never regretted. Therefore Patel is less about BJP and many be more about Gujarat.

On this count Modi can take some credit because he had conceived the idea of a statue in his tenth year as state Chief Minister. After BJP won Gujarat for the first time in 1995, efforts were made to remember Patel on October 31.

In Gujarat especially, Patel has always been loved and admired. There have been at least half-a-dozen politicians who have been labelled Chhote Sardar, and the list includes  LK Advani, and Narendra Modi among others. For Gujratis Patel has more appeal than Mahatma  Gandhi even though Gujrat has taken pride in both the heroes.

In the present context it serves a political purpose to showcase and resurrect Patel because it helps dwarf the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. Modi has therefore used this to the hilt hammering the message that India is much more than what Nehru and the Gandhis wanted to shape and make it to be. On this count, Modi has done a national service because he has made the younger generation aware of national icons like Patel who till recently had disappeared from text books and minds of an average Indian. Worse still every second monument, airport or museum is named after one family completely erasing all others. Therefore, even if the BJP is playing politics in the name of Sardar Patel it is one which is welcome and long overdue.

 The statue in itself apart from being a talking point, puts India on the world map as a country that has the tallest statute. Domestically, it helps give a boost to tourism and with it will help generate employment. Therefore, this is not only about a statue or history but a step that corrects the misplaced nationalism vested in a chosen few.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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