Building the world’s tallest statue – with donations of cash and iron from farmers and others across the country – is one of the mission statements being emphasized in the campaign of Narendra Modi, the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister.
The statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister and the deputy of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is expected to cost 2500 crores, will be double the height of the Statue of Liberty, and will be installed on a river island in Gujarat, the home state of both Mr. Modi and the iconic founding father, who belonged to the Congress but whose legacy has turned into hotly-contested territory.
While Mr. Modi and the BJP have positioned themselves as the defenders of a founding father ignored by the Congress, they have a new interest group to contend with.
Dalit organisations in Gujarat have come together to demand an even taller statue of their leader, BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution and the country’s first Law Minister.
On Republic Day, several leaders including Dr. Ambedkar’s grandson, Prakash, met at Bhatt village, about 30 kilometres from Ahmedabad, and decided to launch a high-decibel campaign to pressure Mr. Modi .
“We now need to examine whether religion or constitution holds an important role..that’s why there is need for such a statue..which could serve as an icon for the youth and provide them an insight into the contribution of Baba Saheb Ambedkar,” said Prakash Ambedkar.
Paraphernalia to popularize the cause includes matchboxes and candles inscribed with messages promoting Mr. Ambedkar. These are being distributed in villages.
Dalits constitute 17 per cent of the population, and if the movement gathers momentum outside Gujarat, Mr. Modi may find himself confronting a new and large dilemma.