Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi is building the world's tallest statue at a cost of almost US$340 million in honour of one of the country's founding fathers, a project he is using to undermine his chief rivals, the Gandhi-Nehru political dynasty.
The statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's deputy but often at odds with him, is to be built on a river island in Gujarat, the home state of both Patel and Modi.
Modi, who rules Gujarat as chief minister and is the leading opposition candidate for prime minister in general elections due to be held by May next year, was due yesterday to inaugurate the construction of the statue, on the 138th anniversary of Patel's birth.
"Every Indian regrets Sardar Patel did not become the first prime minister. Had he been the first prime minister, the country's fate and face would have been completely different," Modi said on Tuesday at a public function.
The statue, twice the size of the Statue of Liberty, is seen as a not-so-subtle bid by Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to appropriate an independence-era hero associated with the ruling Congress party that has largely been run by the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Some historians have suggested Patel, who died in 1950, was more pro-Hindu than Nehru, who was fiercely secular and opposed to the 1947 partition of British-ruled India into India and Pakistan. Patel is said to have taken a more pragmatic view and is known as the builder of modern India for persuading the country's princely states into joining the new republic.