Why We Need the ₹2,989-Crore Statue of Unity


Why We Need the ₹2,989-Crore Statue of Unity

Illustration: Akshita Monga

As our Supreme Leader Narendra Bhai Damodardas Modi (GST included) unveiled a massive statue of India’s first Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the South Indian in me had only one question. “How is he Sardar if he is not wearing a turban?”

While everyone around me was slamming Modiji for wastefulness of building the world’s largest statue, I was secretly quite relieved. Relieved that Modi picked a deputy PM who was a Congressman over a deputy PM from his own party. If he’d gone with the latter, we’d have got a 600-ft statue of a sulking LK Advani and the costs would have automatically tripled to 9,000 crore — because to truly depict Advani, you’d have to build his statue to stand in the shadow of 600-ft statues of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi.

Since the unveiling of the statue, most debates have followed the same track: How can we spend 2,989 crore on a statue when the government could have spent the same amount of money to help thousands of people, or educate underprivileged kids, and build exactly seven Mangalyaans? This is the dumbest argument I’ve heard from the smartest voices in our country. I acknowledge my privilege and the means at my disposal to probably never ever have to worry about food, clothing, and shelter in life, and I know there are a lot of people out there who have neither of those. But this time I call bullshit and refuse to use the poverty argument every time I disagree with the way this government functions.

First off, after Old Monk and Pan Parag (what, you’ve not tried?), poverty and mathematics are the most lethal combination of whataboutery to ensure you talk shit all night. “Do you ever wonder how many poor people Foodpanda could have fed instead of burning money to give you offers like ‘Enter coupon code FUCKZOMATO and pay nine bucks for a ₹200 cookie?’” “Do you know that instead of spending an hour writing an article about how some people use poor people to win arguments, you could have actually helped six aged people on the streets?”

Patel sacrificed designation for duty. He exchanged being the glamorous king of the jungle for the tireless workhorse.

So let’s please not get carried away. I’ll say it straight – I don’t mind the government spending thousands of crores on statues, buildings, or memorials. Because let’s not kid ourselves that this money would have found its way into helping the needy. All that would have happened, is that two years later, Nirav Modi would have been awarded a 3,000-crore contract for a defence company he’d have floated two months prior, to build special planes for India’s Space Force.

And really, you can’t put a price tag on these statues. These are important structures and perhaps our only legacy — even if we have a history of defacing them. Monuments and statues are the only non-perishable items that will link back to us, defining our generation a few centuries later. They could serve as a starting point to anyone who wants to discover our history in the distant future. After all, what great, big, or beautiful structures have we built in our country in the last 50 years that will stand the test of time and serve as a bookmark in history? Orion Mall? Lodha World Towers? They will perish and new towers will be built over them, with newer redevelopment scams.

So by all means, let’s critique the statue. For its aesthetics. For its cultural and historical significance. But not for the money spent. Unfortunately, there will always be poverty and bad roads and terrible infrastructure. One can always argue that the money spent on every stunning structure from the past could have been put to better use. Was every stomach in France fed when they decided to overindulge in an arch for a four-and-a-half-month World Fair, today known as the Eiffel Tower? Couldn’t France have invested the money in space exploration and ramping up its roads and rail lines instead of spending millions making a colossal neoclassical sculpture as a gift to the United States, today known as the Statue Of Liberty? Closer home, couldn’t Shah Jahan contribute millions toward the study of postpartum haemorrhage instead of going overboard on a tomb for his wife who died giving birth to his 14th child due to postpartum haemorrhage? Or at least put money into a massive sex-ed campaign?

We can discuss to death the historical and political significance of the statue, but even on that front, I still stand by the government’s decision to make a monument for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of our country’s founding fathers. Learned, pragmatic, and a tough negotiator, he took on the arduous task of getting over 500 princely states to accede to the Republic of India. He was a loyal Gandhian and was thrice slated to become the president of the Congress party as a result of being nominated by a fair, intra-party democratic process. But on Gandhi’s advice, he stepped aside for Nehru to lead the party, because Nehru would have it no other way.

Patel sacrificed designation for duty. He exchanged being the glamorous king of the jungle for the tireless workhorse. He gave up his personal goals for greater good. If you read Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins’ non-fiction masterpiece Freedom At Midnight, you will understand that this man was the Rahul Dravid of the Indian freedom struggle. If anyone deserves a statue, it is Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

History, at the end of it, is just a memory of a particular time. And from the lessons our hard disks have taught us, there is no unlimited space for memories. Over time, new memories take the place of older, less important ones. Unfortunately, nobody curates memories. Pele is the only footballer we remember from the ’60s and Bradman the only cricketer we remember from the ’30s. Four hundred years from now it is highly probable that Indians will only know of Gandhi from our freedom struggle. There will be newer heroes who would have paved the way for our country through more recent struggles. But through this statue, people in the future can always discover the important others in our struggle to become a democratic republic.

I’m, of course, not foolish enough to believe that these are the reasons why NaMo (GST excluded) decided to erect this statue. Maybe Modi’s first choice was to build a 600-ft statue of Nathuram Godse, but Amit Shah must have chipped in and said, “It’s too out there and edgy, bhai.”

With this statue, I think Patel finally has his rightful place under the sun. And with it, Modiji (VAT included) has booked his place in history too. This way, everybody wins.