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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Statue of Unity: How the Varna Media is Loving It!

Sunday 29 December 2013, by Subhash Gatade

The man who belonged to the whole country has now been abducted by Narendra Modi, a pracharak of the RSS, the communal organisation who the Sardar fought against throughout his life. ..The only purpose of the construction of the Sardar Patel statue which was declared by Narendra Modi after he was anointed as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is to collect votes for the 2014 elections in the name of this leader of India’s freedom struggle. It is therefore a downright irony that the RSS pracharak is trying to build the facade of unity by erecting the statue of one of the staunchest opponents of the RSS.

[http://www.truthofgujarat.com/facade-unity-rss-abducts-sardar-patel/ Facade of Unity — RSS Abducts Sardar Patel, Pratik Sinha, October 31, 2013]

I

History bears witness the fact that the attitude to appear ‘big’ or ‘tall’ so that even posterity remembers you is very much visible in every megalomaniac. It is a different matter that due to a poor sense of history they cannot even comprehend that the way they subdued a population, cleansed the ‘others’ rather over-whelms the giant monuments they build or the memorials they erect to commemorate their bloody victories. The Halakus, the Chengiz Khans, the Menanders or the Mussolinis of the world are remembered today not as noble representatives of humanity but as its other.

Not very many people can recollect now the famous scene in The Great Dictator—a parody on the emergence of Hitler in Germany made by the legendary Charlie Chaplin—where the ‘Dictator’ makes all attempts to appear to be sitting on a higher pedestal vis-a-vis his guest/adversary. The special chair made by him for the stated purpose makes it possible for him to move up and down as desired. The hilarious scene ends up when the ‘dictator’ literally falls on the ground before his honourable guest.

One was reminded of this scene when news came in that the tallest statue in the memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is being built in the western State of Gujarat at the behest of Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. According to the plan, it will be double the size of the ‘Statue of Liberty’ in the US (the height of the Statue of Liberty is 93 metres) and four times higher than the statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ located in Rio de Janeiro. It is going to be built by Turner Construction of the US which is reputed for building many famous and giant structures such as Burj Dubai, the Yankee Stadium of New York etc. The project cost is estimated to be Rs 2500 crores and the consultancy fees of Turner itself will be to the tune of Rs 61 crores. Only a few days back the main Opposition party, the BJP, organised the ‘Run for Unity’ at hundreds of places across India wherein its top leaders also participated as part of its efforts to give this pet project of Mr Modi a big push.

We are being told that after this event, the members of the party as well as other volunteers of the ‘Parivar’ would reach out to people, communicating to them the ‘importance of this project’ and would collect iron from them which would supposedly be used in the construction of this upcoming monument. Looking at the fact that Sardar Patel happened to be a farmer, special emphasis would be paid towards them in this campaign and they would be persuaded that they donate at least one iron tool for making the 25,000-tonne statue.

Perhaps all those who are conversant with the ‘Parivar’ trajectory would recollect that more than two decades back it had used a similar programme to reach out to the people to popularise its other project of Ram Mandir to be built in Ayodhya aiming to replace a five hundred-year-old Babri mosque and had collected millions of bricks for the purpose from different corners of the country. (As an aside it may be mentioned here that today all those bricks are lying in the godowns of the Hindutva organisations and the said campaign to ‘correct historical wrongs’ had resulted in nationwide communal riots after the demolition of the Babri mosque.)

According to the website www.statueo-funity.com, the said statue ‘[w]ill be located at Sadhu Bet, an island situated 3 kilometres away from the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat. The Sardar Sarovar Dam is a gravity dam built on the river Narmada and is a part of the Narmada Valley Project. The height of the statue is 182 metres which makes it the tallest one in the world. It is also one of the largest projects of the country. Tourists have to embark in a boat to reach the statue.” The project would be owned by the Gujarat Government’s sponsored trust, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET).

This memorial will have a museum on the life of Sardar Patel and also a research centre which would “promote research on matters such as good governance, agriculture technology and development for the tribal population which were core matters of importance Sardar Patel. There will be the facility of lift for the visitors to go to the top of the construction and be able to enjoy eye-catching sight of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.”

Interestingly the media—the supposed watchdog of democracy—or rather its majority has refused to put the grand project under scanner over its ‘Social, Economic and Environ-mental Impacts’ nor the manner in which it allegedly ‘[v]iolates the law of the land, constitution of India and concerns of poor, tribals and environment’

And the reasons for the same are not difficult to understand as it is becoming increasingly clear that with the Congress losing its legitimacy because of corruption and unbearable price rise and appearing to be dilly-dallying on various issues of concern to the moneyed and the corporates, there is growing clamour for a ‘decisive’ leader at the top among the rich and the privileged. And Modi’s pro-corporate image rather fits the bill. In fact it has been quite some time that the corporates have unashamedly joined the chores of ‘Modi for PM’. For them the carnage of 2002 in Gujarat when Modi happened to be the Chief Minister of the State and has been castigated for his alleged connivance or ineptness in handling the situation is just a matter of detail and cannot put his supposed leadership qualities into question. They also do not want to remember that his own party’s seniormost leader—namely, Atal Behari Vajpayee who happened to be the Prime Minister then—had even questioned his sense of ‘Rajdharma’.

II

The mainstream media’s silence has not deterred activists concerned with people’s welfare and a life of dignity to everyone to expose how ‘[b]oth Mr Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat who laid the foundation stone for the “Statue of Unity” and his office, the CM’s Secretariat, are either clueless or do not want to give a categorical reply when asked about the missing ‘Environment Clearance’ for the proposed “Statue of Unity Project”.

This group of activists had written to the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, copying the details to the Gujarat Chief Minister and Gujarat Chief Secretary, Gujarat Principal Secretary, Forest and Environ-ment Department and Member Secretary of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust on November 7, 2013 raising their concerns about ‘Environment. Social and Safety’ issues related to the “Statue of Unity Project”.

According to a Press Release issued by them, they “.[r]eceived a letter from the CM’s Secretariat which instead of being clear on its actions to seek ‘Environmental Clearance’ from the competent authority forwarded our represen-tation to the Gujarat State’s two departments. Incidentally, the Chief Minister also holds the ministerial portfolio amongst others, of the Narmada Water Resources, Water Supply and Kalpsar Department. It is one of the two depart-ments to which the Chief Minister’s Secretariat has forwarded the letter instructing them to look into our representation.” They are of the opinion that “the Gujarat Government authorities responsible for processing and/or granting ‘Environment Clearances’ are keeping silent, while the Chief Minister’s Secretariat refuses to provide a clear answer”.

With their communique which was issued to the press few days before the grand programme called ‘Run for Unity’—held on December 15, 2013—they had shared their concerns, questions, worries including the glaring issues and procedural anomalies and had explained to the people who intended to participate in the programme as to why they were raising the question about the need for social and environment impact assessment, “Environment Clearance”, the democratic decision-making process and why they should also know and discuss these worries. They had also requested all such people to ‘ask Mr Narendra Modi and his government to answer the valid legal and moral questions raised by us before joining the run with the euphoria created in Gujarat and across India by Mr Narendra Modi and the BJP to play electoral politics in the name of Shree Sardar Patel’.

The communique had concluded with a poser: “Why should we, citizens and students, be made party to a government project which completely ignores and bluntly, openly violates the law of the land, Constitution of India and concerns of poor, tribals and environment?”

It would be opportune here to mention the main highlights of their letter written on November 7, 2013 to Dr V. Rajagopalan, the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi, seeking detailed environmental scrutiny of the project called ‘Statue of Unity’.

• The world’s largest statue in the form of ‘Statue of Unity’ is being built near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the river downstream from the dam, just 3.2 km from the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, in eco-sensitive zone, and involving massive infrastructure. It has started work without the legally mandatory environment clearance, environment and social impact assess-ment or any public consultation process.

• It is clearly illegal, in violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and EIA notification of September 2006 and a number of NGT and Court orders about such massive kind of construction on the riverbed. On October 31, 2013, the foundation stone was laid for the project amidst huge fanfare and media attention. Tenders have also been floated. Even the work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, began without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation and environmental clearance from the Environ-mental Sub Group (ESG) of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA).

• The estimated cost of the project is more than Rs 2500 crores.

The key issues that beg immediate scrutiny are as follows:

[[<> (1) The project clearly needs environment clearance under the EIA notification of September 2006, but has not applied for or obtained the clearance at any stage.

(2) The Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary boundary is touching the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir (as a part of the Environmental Protection measures of the Sardar Sarovar Project). [The earlier Dhumkal Sloth Bear Sanctuary was extended to meet the reservoir boundaries and is called Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.] Since the statute is only 3.2 kms from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, it is certainly near by Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.

(3) The project involves construction in the river bed and proposed reservoir, close to the sanctuary in the eco-sensitive zone, and hence will have serious impacts on the ecology and environment. Hence, and an EIA and EC are crucial.

(4) The project will affect the downstream river, its biodiversity, people and livelihoods and other related aspects.

(5) A comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the ‘Statue of Unity’ and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area has not been done.

(6) The project also needs public consultation, but that has not happened so far.

(7) During the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam due to hard rock digging, the seismic area already carries the burden of artificial activity in the bedrock and added load in what is deemed as a geologically faultline area. Public reports on geotechnical and geological studies on the proposed site have raised issues of structural stability as well as safety. This cannot be taken casually by authorities. The seismic hazard analysis claimed to have been done by the Gujarat Government’s in-house “Institute of Seismological Research” (http://www.statueofunity. in/execution.html#sthash.jEBrofSN.dpuf) or the geological and geotechnical investigation commissioned to another government institute WAPCOS cannot be considered credible unless it is peer reviewed and put in public domain.

Signed by around fourty leading scholars, activists—mainly from Gujarat—the said letter put forward the following demands:

1. Direct the Government of Gujarat to submit application for environment clearance and till that is obtained, not to do any work related to the project.

2. Direct the Government of Gujarat to immediately stop the planned project called the ‘Statue of Unity’ and direct them to stop all other activities related to the ‘Statue of Unity’.

3. Declare the action—of the foundation-stone laying on October 31, 2013 for the project called ‘Statue of Unity’—of the Chief Minister of Gujarat State as illegal, in violation of the EIA notification of September 2006 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

III

Anybody can note the contrast how the same media had gone hammer and tongs against Ms Mayawati for her penchant for building statues of stalwarts of Dalit liberation when she happened to be the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. All the wise men sitting at the desk of the newspapers and the TV studios told/advised her time and again that the money could have been spent,on laying roads, building schools and hospitals, and generating power—all sectors where Uttar Pradesh lagged behind the national average. Apart from the fact that she was made a butt of joke for inaugurating her own statue, learned experts kept harping on the fact that it was just sheer wastage of money. For Mayawati’s detractors, the parks, and the statues inside, were nothing but ‘unproductive assets, the indulgence of a megalomaniac’. No such advice seems to be forthcoming from all these experts to Narendra Modi over his pet project despite the fact that the human development indicators of Gujarat are no less better than that of Subsaharan Africa.

All its concerns towards the dispriviledged and the marginalised simply vanished despite the open secret that the real agenda to have a grandiose memorial to Sardar Patel was a desperate attempt by Narendra Modi to project him as the ‘real heir’ of Patel’s legacy using hard earned public money—which involves expen-diture which are more than five times the monies which were spent what one journalist had then called ‘Mayawati’s Statues of Liberty’ (http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/mayawati-s-statues-of-liberty-111110500008 _1.html)

Everybody knows that Narendra Modi happens to be the third claimant to Sardar’s legacy within the wider Hindutva fraternity. If L. K. Advani, as the Home Minister of India during the NDA regime, tried to project himself as the real ‘heir apparent’ of Patel, Keshubhai Patel, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat whom Modi had replaced, had also claimed for himself the honorific ‘Chote Sardar’.

Could it be interpreted as the upper-caste dominated media’s inherent derision towards Dalits and bahujans scripting an alternatve view of history and their growing assertion and its cosying up to an essential Manuwadi agenda peddled by the Sangh Parivar and its lead mascot?

IV

Regardless of the objections raised by activists, scholars, people concerned with environment we know that for Modi there is no going back on this project. The ground-breaking ceremony for the statue was held on October 31 and all those persons who were protesting the inaugu-ration were not even allowed to reach the venue. Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti rhetorically asks “At what cost and at whose cost is this Statue of Unity being built? Would Sardar Patel, whose image Narendra Modi is using to project himself, have approved of these high handed and undemo-cratic actions?” (Frontline, December 13, 2013)

In the end, the growing deification of Sardar Patel by Modi and the larger Saffron fraternity increasingly looks hilarious if one takes a look at the post-independence period.

While Narendra Modi or his Parivar men can suffer from selective amnesia if it suits their convenience, the world at large very well remembers Patel as that leader of India who was instrumental in its unification and was aware about the hate politics practised by the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha combine. The government communique of February 4, 1948, announcing the ban on RSS after Gandhi’s assassination, said:

“...Government have, however, noticed with regret that in practice members of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have not adhered to their professed ideals.

“Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by the members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions. They have been found circulating leaflets, exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and military.”

The world at large knows how the Hindu fanatics had planned the murder of the Mahatma and how the likes of Savarkar and Golwalkar, the second supremo of the RSS, could be held to be responsible for creating the ambience of hate which culminated in the gruesome act. Sardar Patel’s letter to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who was then a member of the Hindu Maha-sabha and who later formed the Bharatiya Jana Sangh with the RSS’ support, provides enough details about the background (July 18, 1948)

“... our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (the RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhiji’s assassination) became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.”

According to Narendra Modi’s biographers, he became a member of the RSS since his days of adolescence and has also worked with the then supremo of the RSS, Golwalkar. It is possible that Narendra Modi has of late become convinced about the politics of hate, violence, subversion and terror practised by the RSS which Vallabh-bhai Patel—who remained a Congressman all his life—was aware of and had extensively written about. If he does not formally acknowledge this ‘change of heart’ then it will be presumed that he is

“.[l]ionising Patel through a conscious process of selective amnesia and cynical manipulation, harping on what Patel did to unite India, but deliberately ignoring his strong views on those who wanted to divide her through the politics of communal incitement and violence.” (Pavan K Verma, The Times of India, September 28, 2013)

It is time Modi and the larger Parivar gets ready to do a course correction. The question remains, and it finds mention in the Bible, Jeremiah 13:23 (King James Version):

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”

The author is a writer and social activist; he was publishing a Hindi periodical, Sandhaan, sometime ago.

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