The statue is of a man who had not wanted to make a claim to be taller, but to be one among the people
I cannot help but feel depressed when I hear people exclaiming in delight about the height of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue in Gujarat, and worse, at the comparisons with the other tall statues of the world.
I belong to an era when Patel was negotiating the integration of the princely states into the Indian Union. My father, M.A. Sreenivasan, was the Convener of the Chamber of Princes and was applauded both by V.P. Menon, then Secretary of the States Ministry, and Patel for having integrated the princes into the Union of India.
Sardar Patel was immersed in the ethos of the freedom movement. He was dressed in dhoti-kurta and was a devoted disciple of Gandhi and his practices of simplicity and humility. Leaders and politically active citizens then rejected the ideas and practices that came from the former colonial masters — in fact, anything from the West. Recalling that era and its ethos, it is embarrassing that the Indian state should erect a monolith, a giant statue even taller than the Gommateshwara sculpture in Karnataka, and worse, celebrate the fact that this statue is taller than any other in the world. They seem to have forgotten that the statue is of a man who had not wanted to make a claim to be taller, but be one among the people.
Imagine if the ₹2,989 crore spent on the statue was used to, say, fund the rehabilitation of the tribal people and the farmers who are agitating for livelihood and compensation around the Narmada river. Or that vast sum of money was allocated among primary health centres in deeply neglected districts, whether in Odisha, Bihar or Gujarat.
Patel should be remembered as we remember Gandhi — for his attitude, lifestyle of simplicity and his dedication to the affirmation of Indian democracy. Not for the height of his statue.
In that context, I have never liked the phrase ‘Iron Man’ for Patel, suggesting that he was rigid and unshakeable in his views. If one reads the various proceedings from the Congress Working Committee meetings, one can see what a moderate role he played, bridging the gap between the overarching modernity of Nehru and the rather obstinate attitude of Gandhi. He shaped India as it is today and perhaps some of those crores of rupees could have been spent to promote readable biographies of this great man in our different languages.
For people such as myself, who lived through that era, it is difficult to see this statue. We want to turn away and say that this is not the Patel who led India and federated India into a democratic republic. This is a giant made of steel and bronze, dominating fields and people in a manner that no Gandhian would support.