The human race has forever had an obsession with size and spectacle. Our ancestors marveled at the giants that nature provided, looking in awe at the height of the Redwoods or the towering peaks of mountains rising into the heavens.
In the modern age, we have tried to emulate such marvels in the best ways we can, with designs for monuments, buildings and towers testing the limits of our ingenuity and grandeur. Fans of such artificial behemoths will soon have a new sight to behold: the tallest statue in the world.
India’s Statue of Unity, currently under construction and set to be completed in 2018, will be a whopping 597 feet tall, or for better context, nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. It will shatter the previous record for world’s tallest statue, which is currently held by the Spring Temple Buddha in Henan, China at a “mere” 420 feet.
Contrary to its generic title, the statue will not display some anthropomorphized representation of the concept of unity but rather a man whose visage means as much for the Indian people. Vallabhbhai Patel was an Indian social leader in the early to middle 20th century and a key figure in the movement to gain independence from Great Britain.
Patel’s name is not recognized as much in the West as that of his contemporary, Mohandas Gandhi, but within the country he is revered as one of its founding fathers; indeed, he served as India’s first Prime Minister from 1948 until his death two years later.
Such a tremendous undertaking should be a source of pride for the Indian government and its people, but the project has unfortunately come under a great deal of scrutiny.
For one, there is concern among political pundits within India that the statue’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, is co-opting a symbol of national pride (and, well, unity) by turning Patel’s image into a symbol for his own controversial political party, the Bharatiya Party. Such a divisive and partisan maneuver runs counter to everything Patel tried to achieve during his lifetime.
There is also a more concrete logistical problem concerning the actual construction of the statue. In addition to its ethereal purpose as a bastion of hope and togetherness, part of the rationale for the Statue of Unity was the idea that it would be a stimulant for India’s economy through tourism, as well as through the jobs that would be created in the statue’s production and assembly.
But while the former revenue stream will almost certainly come to fruition in the years to come, the latter has already proved to be nothing more than a pipe dream and selling point to the Indian people.
“Made in India” remains one of the project’s taglines but there is mounting evidence that little of the effort involved in building the statue will have anything to do with the Indian people. In a situation that is not unfamiliar to readers in the United States, India has seen its jobs outsourced, in this case to China, from which the Larsen & Toubro construction company is procuring some 25,000 pieces of bronze and thousands of contracted workers.
At this point, with the design completed, the money changed hands and the construction begun, it is an unfortunate reality that India will have to resort to foreign labor to achieve what should be a symbol of national pride. And yes, it also looks like the short-term gains to the country’s economy will be minimal at best (and with the exorbitant price tag for the statue taken into account, even this might be optimistic).
Nevertheless, I don’t think third-party observers or the people of India itself should look at this situation as a blow to Indian pride. No matter where it is actually created, it can still serve as an icon for the country in which it resides; just look at the Statue of Liberty, known around the globe as a symbol of American freedom and prosperity…and built in France.
True, France was an ally rather than a rival and made the statue as a gift, but it wasn’t even designed by an American. The Statue of Unity is at the very least a creative product of India itself.
Using Chinese workers and parts was simply what made the most financial sense, and sometimes, in our ceaseless quest to create ever more wondrous giants, those types of sacrifices have to be made.