Row over Statue of Unity intensifies as BJP faces tribal ire

The statue will be inaugurated on October 31

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With the countdown to the inauguration of world's tallest statue—Statue of Unity—in Gujarat on October 31 having begun, the controversy over the manner in which the statue has come up and the issue of allegedly ignoring rights of local tribals have intensified.

A two-pronged attack on the BJP government in Gujarat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi came on Friday, on the day the party flagged off the Ekta Yatra from Bardoli.

If former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta, under the aegis of Rashtra Manch (Gujarat), alleged that the statue of Sardar Patel was politically motivated with an eye on 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress leaders urged the BJP to also keep at the statue site the details of the history as to why Patel had banned the RSS. Earlier in the day, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had alleged that the Gandhi family had always ignored Patel.

The 182-metre tall statue is coming up at Kevadia Colony, three kilometres away from Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) dam site, at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. 

Without naming Modi, Mehta, at a press conference attended by local tribals, too, alleged that the statue was built only for Modi's personal ambitions. Citing several instances of how the SSP had helped the BJP in the assembly elections in Gujarat and 2014 Lok Sabha election, Mehta also gave out details about how the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited diverted funds from the project. 

Mehta also remarked that the CAG in its report had observed that it was inappropriate for the public sector undertakings to give funds for the statue. The CAG had also noted that building of the statue did not fall in the CSR activity of the public sector oil companies that donated money.

Mehta reminded the BJP how it had reacted to Congress president Rahul Gandhi's remarks that the statue was Chinese made. The former chief minister said that L&T had given the sub-contract to a Chinese firm and the state government had said that it had no control over whom the L&T gives contract to. 

Meanwhile, local tribals, who have been demanding Narmada waters and land for the land that has gone for the project, have given a call for hartal in the entire tribal belt from Ambaji in north Gujarat to Umargaon in south Gujarat to protest against the state government's alleged failure to protect the culture and other interests of the tribals. 

In an open letter to Modi, the tribals have said that he is not welcome to the state for the inauguration of the statue. The tribals alleged that the BJP was giving false promises to the tribals and they have not got benefit of the Narmada waters for which their parents had sacrificed their land. 

Tribal rights activist Laxman Musafir said that around 70 villages are being affected by the Statue of Unity, Shresth Bharat Bhavan and other amenities that are to come up in the area. 

Another social activist, Dr Praful Tadvi, alleged that the statue would be disastrous for the tribals. Tadvi, a tribal, said that in the tribal areas the education ratio is very poor. Business is being done in the name of Sardar Patel, he said.

Meanwhile, the Ekta Yatra of the BJP, aimed at spreading the message of unity and the efforts made by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, is expected to go to 10,000 villages of the state. In the first phase, the yatra will cover over 5,000 villages.