It will be a symbol of unity cast in iron. That is once the Gujarat government takes care of the murmurs of protest. With the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the 182-metre-high statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel set for October 31, the state government has begun talks with tribals from 70 villages in Narmada district who are opposed to land acquisition for the project at Kevadia.
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s Rs 2,500 crore pet project—titled Statue of Unity— is a state government idea that is being given a pan-India appeal, on Modi’s insistence. The Gujarat Chief Minister has convinced his party to launch a three-month-long nationwide campaign to collect iron pieces from six lakh villages to build the statue. On October 11, BJP President Rajnath Singh set up an eight-member co-ordination committee to oversee the collection. Led by party’s Kisan Morcha chief Omprakash Dhankad, who belongs to Haryana, the other members of the committee would be: Thawar Chand Gehlot, BJP MP and party general secretary from Madhya Pradesh; Hukum Dev Yadav, an MP from Bihar; Dr L Laxman from Andhra Pradesh; Sudhir Mungantiwar from Maharashtra, Sarayu Roy from Jharkhand, Vijay Pal Singh Tomar, the Uttar Pradesh Kisan Morcha Chief; and Hriday Nath Singh from Delhi.
“We will appoint district-level committees in all 640 districts in the country which will conduct awareness drives through pamphlets in regional languages. They will also conduct essay and painting competitions around the theme. There will be folk song programmes to involve the youth to create a movement,” Dhankad told The Sunday Standard.
“The purpose is not so much to collect iron, but create that emotional unity among the villages for a national cause,” he added.
Modi had first unveiled this strategy of collecting iron pieces after his coronation as the party’s campaign committee chief in Goa in June. The iron collection campaign will run from October 31 to January 26, 2014. “The iron pieces from farming tools will be collected with proper ceremony. The villagers who hand over the iron pieces would be felicitated during the function and their names recorded which will form part of the national record of contributors at the statue site,” Dhankad added.
The iron collection campaign echoes the drive the BJP conducted during the late 80s and 90s for building the Ram Temple. Bricks were collected from over two lakh villages for the temple in Ayodhya.
Side-stepping questions about the similarities with the Ram Temple exercise, the BJP leader said unlike in the past, when one section of society did not participate, this campaign would aim to bring everyone closer on a nationalist issue.
Interestingly, all the iron collected may not be actually used in the statue as strict construction norms on quality would be necessary for building the massive structure. The iron collected will be melted and used in related construction work.
The Gujarat government has floated an international tender for building the project. The tender worth over `2,032 crore would select the successful bidder by December after which the construction would begin.
The successful bidder would construct and maintain the project for 15 years. The government has already created a special purpose vehicle—Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust—with the chief minister as its chairman for implementing the project.
The state government has already tied up with a consortium, led by Turner Project Management—the project management consultants of Burj Khalifa—Michael Graves and Associates (US) and Mindheart (Germany) for overseeing the building of the project.