The man expected to become India's next prime minister has been accused of wasting more than 200 million pounds on what will become the world's tallest statue. The Statue of Unity to honour Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first deputy prime minister, will stand at 597ft when completed in 42 months, almost 100ft taller than China's Spring Temple Buddha, the world's current tallest at 502ft. It will be almost twice as high as the Statue of Liberty in New York, which is 305ft. Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square stands at 170ft.
The memorial will be set on a river island close to the Narmada Dam and will be connected to an amusement park and a garden in Sardar Patel's honour by a bridge. Its construction is expected to boost tourism numbers to the state of Gujarat, but it has also been seen as a political manoeuvre by Narendra Modi, its controversial chief minister, to co-opt one of the heroes of India's independence struggleas a symbol for his Bharatiya Janata Party.
On Thursday, the 138th anniversary of Patel's birth, Modi said: "The world will be forced to look at India when this statue stands tall." Earlier this week, Modi, who will lead the BJP's general election campaign next year, said Patel would have been a much better first prime minister of independent India than Jawaharlal Nehru. The cost of the statue and the political purpose behind it brought strong criticism from leading commentators.
Mohan Gurumurthy, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said Sardar Patel himself would have objected to money being spent in this way. He had rejected India's main Hindu nationalist group at the time, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and had wanted to ban it. Since his death however, the Congress Party had neglected his legacy and Mr Modi's BJP has seized the opportunity to claim it. "Now both the parties are trying to claim his legacy. If he had been alive, Patel would never approve millions to be spent on his statue," he said.
A Gujarat official involved in the project said it would be partially funded by small contributions, with the Gujarat government making up the difference. He denied it was a waste of funds, calling it "icon-based" development that would attract tourism.
Modi's spending on statues while millions live in poverty has evoked memories of Mayawati, the "untouchable" former chief of Uttar Pradesh and self-style 'Dalit Queen', who spent more than pounds 300 million on statues of herself, as well as BR Ambedkar, the Dalit author of India's constitution, her former partner and party founder Kanshi Ram.