Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday unveiled the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity, built as a tribute to Vallabhbhai Patel, the person credited by most people for creating a unified India.

The statue is part of Modi’s poll promise, which helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defeat the Congress and come to power in 2014. The unveiling of the statue comes ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year and the assembly elections to be held this year in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana.

The project is Modi’s brainchild and was proposed by him in 2010 when he was the chief minister of Gujarat.

The Prime Minister dedicated the 182-metre statue to the nation at Kevadiya in Narmada district of Gujarat on Patel’s 143rd birth anniversary.

The statue, built at a cost of 2,989 crore, is located approximately 3.5km downstream from the Sardar Sarovar Dam on a rocky island called Sadhu Bet on the banks of river Narmada. The project has been completed in a record time of 33 months.

The Prime Minister, while unveiling the statue, hit out at people, including leaders of opposition parties, who have questioned the government’s decision to construct the memorial.

“I am amazed when some people of our own country dared to see this initiative from a political view and criticize us as if we have committed a huge crime. Is remembering the country’s great personalities a crime?" he asked.

Modi hailed Patel’s legacy and said that he was responsible for creating the unified India that we live in today.

“Had Sardar not unified India, we would need a visa to see lions or visit the holy shrine at Somnath or view Charminar in Hyderabad. He has converted India’s diversity into its biggest strength. The country, which is moving towards becoming the world’s greatest economic and strategic power, is following the path shown by Sardar Patel," Modi said.

BJP chief Amit Shah, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel and Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel were also present on the occasion.

“Today is a day that will be remembered in the history of India. No Indian will ever forget this day," the Prime Minister said.

A tribute to the “Iron Man of India", the memorial has been built with iron pieces collected from farmers across the country, in a gesture meant to signify the unity of India.

Modi had launched a massive iron collection drive ahead of the 2014 elections with BJP members collecting pieces of iron from all Indian villages.

“To build the Statue of Unity, lakhs of farmers from all over India came together, gave their tools and soil and thus a mass movement developed," Modi said.

At 182-metre, the statue is 177 feet taller than China’s Spring Temple Buddha, which till now was the world’s tallest statue. It is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York City and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

A museum and audio-visual gallery in the lobby area at the entrance of the statue will feature 15-minute presentations on the life of Patel and the tribal culture of Gujarat, to entertain tourists awaiting their turn to go up. There is also a viewing gallery at a height of 152 metres, where more than 200 people will be able to stand at any one time and view the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

The project also includes a memorial park at the base of the statue, a visitor facilitation centre and a reception desk.

The project is facing opposition from villagers in the region and from other political parties. Headmen of 22 villages had written an open letter to the Prime Minister, saying they would not welcome him during the 31 October event. The villagers claim that the construction of the memorial has resulted in widespread destruction to the environment and that the government has done little to rehabilitate those who have been displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam and statue projects.

Leader of opposition in the Gujarat assembly, Paresh Dhanani, a Congress MLA, targeted the BJP over the non-completion of Narmada canal network.

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