- World's biggest statue is rising in Gujarat to honour Vallabhbhai Patel
- The Rs 29.9 billion statue is a pet project of PM Modi
- 2,500 workers are toiling round the clock to ready it by October 31
The world's biggest statue is rising in Gujarat to honour Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, but it could quickly be outdone by a monument to king Chhatrapati Shivaji in the sea off Mumbai. Around $1 billion is being spent on the two giant effigies, each more than twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
A 182-metre-high tribute to India's first Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat will be the first to dwarf the Spring Temple Buddha in China, currently the world's biggest statue at 128 metres in height.
Pick-axes are also swinging for a 212-metre-high likeness of 17th-century king Chhatrapati Shivaji, resplendent on a horse and brandishing a sword, which should dominate the Mumbai shoreline from 2021.
An army of 2,500 workers -- including several hundred Chinese labourers -- is toiling around the clock to put 5,000 squares of bronze cladding on the figure of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel so it can be ready for inauguration on October 31 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Rs 29.9 billion "Statue of Unity" overlooking the isolated Sardar Sarovar Dam is a pet project of PM Modi. He has predicted it will attract "hordes" of tourists, as the Statue of Liberty does in New York.
Visitors will be able to access a viewing gallery 153 metres up -- about chest height on the huge standing figure. But they will have to travel 250 km from Ahmedabad to get there.
Analysts say there could also be a political motive to the mega project, with the country heading into a campaign for the general elections early next year.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was deputy to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after Independence in 1947, and PM Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party says his name has been unfairly overshadowed by the dominant Nehru dynasty.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel became known as the "Iron Man of India" by persuading -- through talks and a hint of force -- some 550 princely states to become part of India after Independence in 1947. He died three years later.
"Every Indian regrets Sardar Patel did not become the first prime minister," PM Modi said while campaigning in 2013.
"Modi has used Patel's legacy a lot in his election campaigns," said Ghanshyam Shah, a former professor of class politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "He is very likely to use the Statue of Unity during the upcoming campaign but I am worried about how it will influence voters," Mr Shah added.
The opposition Congress says that a plan to change the Nehru Memorial museum in New Delhi into a centre devoted to all prime ministers is another bid to taint Jawaharlal Nehru's name.
In 2016, PM Modi laid the foundation stone in Maharashtra for the statue of Shivaji. Critics say the Rs 36 billion statue is a way of winning Marathi votes in next year's election.
Fuelling the fervour, the government announced last week that the word "Maharaj", or king, had been added to the title of Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
"The BJP has been appropriating icons for some time," said Sudha Pai of the Indian Council of Social Science Research. "Patel has been used to wipe out the Nehru legacy. The BJP wants to change the way history is perceived and show that the right wing was as important in India's freedom struggle."
Preliminary work has started on the project -- with a museum, park and helipad -- on reclaimed land two kilometres out to sea. Environmentalists and thousands of fishing workers oppose the statue because of the threat to fishing stocks.
The price of the monument is certain to rise, analysts say and the state government has already changed the design to bring down costs. How it will eventually look and when it will be finished remains in doubt.
India's statue politics often fall victim to "hard economic reality", according to Badra Narayan, a professor at the Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.
An overrun is inevitable, according to IC Rao, head of a Mumbai citizens' group, who has questioned the cost and safety of the Shivaji design.
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