As It Happens

Former B.C. premier blasts world's tallest statue of Indian icon as 'grotesque'

The world's tallest statue of key independence leader Sardar Patel was inaugurated in India on Wednesday, but Ujjal Dosanjh says it's just a cheap way for Prime Minister Modi to get votes.

'Sardar Patel needs no statues for him to be remembered,' says Ujjal Dosanjh

Indian tri-coloured balloons fly around the Statue of Unity portraying Sardar Patel. Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh wrote an open letter condemning the Indian prime minister for trying to 'fool the masses and secure some votes to the next election.' (Amit Dave/Reuters)

Ujjal Dosanjh says if Indian independence leader Sardar Patel were alive today, he would laugh at the world's tallest statue made in his likeness — and at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The former premier of British Columbia was reacting to the controversial inauguration of the "Statue of Unity" in Kevadiya, a village in Gujarat state.

It is the world's tallest statue at 182 metres, and made of steel and bronze. It was commissioned by Modi in 2010, and built at a cost of more than $400 million US amid criticism that India could not afford it.

According to the Guardian, the Gujarat government said 185 families were moved to make way for the statue. Despite claims they had been fairly compensated with new land, there have been protests in nearby communities. 

Dosanjh, who was born in India, wrote an open letter in 2016 condemning the building of the statue and argued Modi was pandering to religious politics. He spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about his thoughts, now that the statue has been unveiled.

Here is part of that conversation.

This statue is in the name of Sardar Patel. Can you tell us who he is? 

Sardar Patel was the first deputy prime minister of India and the home minister of India. He, along with [Jawaharlal Nehru] and Mahatma Gandhi, was the troika that actually ... dominated the independence movement and beyond.

A helicopter showers flower petals on the Statue of Unity during its inauguration in the Narmada district of Gujarat State, India, on Oct. 31, 2018. (Ajit Solanki/Associated Press)

Isn't Mr. Patel worthy of some kind of a tribute of some nature?

Oh absolutely. I mean he is one of the icons of the independence movement. But I think the problem with what Mr. Modi is doing ... he is now trying to arrogate, expropriate the independence movement or a portion of the independence movement and try and establish that as sort of the Hindu part of the independence movement.

Your problem is that a  $400 million US statue that takes up this much space — including an artificial lake that would submerge about, I understand, about 12 square kilometres of land that's quite rare and quite valuable in this country. It is not really appropriate?

Well, I would say that's a very grotesque way of celebrating the participation and the contribution of Sardar Patel, who himself was an avowed antagonist of wasting any money if it can be used for a good purpose.

If he could come back to Earth, he would laugh at Mr. Modi and basically say, "What are you doing in my name?"

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh says key Indian independence leader Sardar Patel he would laugh at the world's tallest statue made in his likeness. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Now the arguments they give, including from Prime Minister Modi, is that you look at the Taj Mahal. It attracts all kinds of tourists and it brings all kinds of revenue into India. Other countries have the same thing.

They matter to people, don't they, to see these large monuments? Is that not a credible argument?

I don't think it is. Sardar Patel needs no statues for him to be remembered by Indians.

He was known as the Iron Man of India, bringing over 550 states into the union and strengthening the unity of post-independence India.

And in fact, there are a lot of people who criticize Shah Jahan for building the Taj Mahal out of the misery and poverty of his subjects. If Modi wants to have that kind of a legacy and wants to be remembered for wasting money away in unnecessary celebrations of people who otherwise themselves might despise those celebrations, so be it.

It seems though that you're fighting a losing battle here because ... there's going to be an even bigger sculpture to a 17th century warrior that is going to be built elsewhere in India at the cost of about the same amount.

And that's the same problem. You have this [Maharashtra] Shivaji, a great warrior king who happened to be Hindu, but significant portions of his subjects were Muslims.

And so you have India's ancient, medieval past, as well as [its] most modern past, being turned into a vehicle for Hindu nationalism so that Mr. Modi could fool the masses and secure some votes to the next election. That's inappropriate.

It's not a battle that I'm losing, I think it's a battle that India is losing. India needs to win that battle to make sure that we don't move into the Trump-like direction of dividing people based on religion.

Indian policemen stand guard near the Statue Of Unity, the world's tallest statue, dedicated to Indian independence leader Sardar Patel. (Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)

Do you think that Mr. Modi will be successful in this, that these kind of appeals to ... Hindu nationalism will be successful?

Well, we will see in the next election. You know, his appeals to Hindu nationalism and his forgiveness or blindness for those who have been killing rationalist scholars, intellectuals and others in the name of Hinduism is really very dangerous for India.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Samantha Lui. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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