Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to unveil the world’s tallest statue dedicated to freedom fighter Vallabhbhai Patel near Vadodara on Wednesday, months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A senior government official working closely on the Statue of Unity project said Modi might set the tone for the 2019 election campaigning with his remarks at the event. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah is also expected to be present at the inauguration. Today is the 143rd birth anniversary of Sardar Patel and the completion of the statue marks a 2014 election pledge by Modi.

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At 182 metres, the Sardar Patel statue 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. It has been built on a rocky island on the Narmada river, 3.5km south of the Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in Narmada district of Gujarat.

On 29 October 2013, Modi who was then the Gujarat chief minister, along with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, shared a rare platform in Ahmedabad on the inauguration of a museum built by the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Memorial Society. Modi and Singh took digs at each other, keen to appropriate Sardar Patel’s legacy for their respective parties.

Two days later, Modi laid the foundation stone for Statue of Unity.

Patel belonged to the Congress, but is a hero to the BJP, which contrasts his iron man qualities with what it calls the weaknesses of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. Modi has on several occasions said Patel was ignored by the Congress and not allowed to become India’s first prime minister.

“Projecting unity in diversity is what Sardar Patel stood for. The statue provides a beacon of hope of unity for all states of India," said S.S. Rathore, chairman and managing director of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd.

While chief ministers of all BJP-ruled states and senior leaders are going to visit the venue over the next few months, the Gujarat BJP organized Sardar Patel Yatras in 10,000 villages over 10 days leading up to the unveiling.

“The way Sardar Patel united the country, the yatra aims to promote ‘Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat (One India, Best India)’," Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said in a tweet last month.

The Prime Minister in the 49th edition of his monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat, remembered Sardar Patel and appealed to the citizens to participate in the “Run for Unity" on Wednesday. All over the country, people will take a pledge to protect the unity and integrity of India and participate in the Run for Unity.

In September last year, Modi dedicated the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the nation. The project was completed 71 years after it was conceived by Patel in 1946.

“Both Sardar Patel and Modi hail from Gujarat. Modi who was chief minister, started invoking Sardar only in 2006-07 when he set his eyes for a bigger role in national politics. He started saying how the Congress-led centre had been doing injustice to Gujarat and people from Gujarat. In 2010, Modi first announced that he would build a statue of Sardar Patel," said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political analyst.

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