Belying cynics, the Statue of Unity, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has emerged as a major tourist destination and livelihood provider
The iconic Statue of Unity in Kevadiya village in Gujarat’s predominantly tribal Narmada district is doing wonders for tourism and livelihood generation.
Kevadiya, renamed Ekta Nagar, is nestled between the lofty mountains of Satpura and Vindhyachal. The 182 metres statue, designed by decorated Indian sculptor Ram V Sutar, has been built to immortalise Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, India’s first Deputy Prime Minister. The statue in rich bronze cladding is near twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. The name of the statue justifies Patel’s enormous contribution to integrating 550 princely states to unify India.
It is worth recalling that while campaigning in 2013 to become the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had said, “Every Indian regret that Sardar Patel did not become the first prime minister”.
The Vice-President of India, Venkaiah Naidu, wrote in an opinion piece in The Hindu dated October 31, 2017, “Present-day India owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the vision, tact, diplomacy and pragmatic approach of the Sardar in preventing Balkanisation of the country and merger of more than 560 princely States with the Union of India in the wake of the partition of the country. What makes stupendous integration most remarkable is that it was achieved without any bloodshed….. Undoubtedly Sardar Patel was the greatest unifier of India.’’
Despite all the resistance to the construction of the statue, PM Modi will always be remembered for celebrating the legacy of Patel, India’s best-known statesman. Gujarat the fifth-largest Indian state has a rich heritage dating back 3500 years, and the Statue of Unity has emerged as a landmark destination.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the statue to the nation in 2018 at a grand inaugural event on Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel’s birth anniversary, he said it was a tribute to Sardar Patel, the man who united India. “This statue is a symbol of India’s integrity and resolve. With this sentiment, we should march and march with a dream to make the country Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat.’’
The colossal statue of India’s Iron Man was built at the cost of Rs 3,000 crore. An engineering marvel, the statue was built in record time and is surrounded by an enormous man-made lake spread across 12 km.
The Kevadiya tourism circuit covers 35 theme-based tourist spots. The Valley of Flowers, Sardar Patel zoological park, jungle safari, cactus garden, butterfly garden, Ekta nursery, tent city, eco-tourism, Nauka vihar, river rafting children nutrition park and mirror maze. The Safari promises bird and animal lovers guarantee tourists an extraordinary experience with a variety of 1,100 birds and animals. Other new attractions to be added soon are the Garden Maze and the Miyawaki Forest, named after a Japanese scientist.
The Ekta nursery, spread over 10 acres, is in line with the Prime Minister’s vision that visitors should take back with them seedlings as a plant of unity.
India’s first commercial seaplane was also operated by SpiceJet’s subsidiary Spice Shuttle. This provided a link between Ahmedabad (Sabarmati riverfront) and the Statue of Unity.
But tourism is not the only takeaway. “Nearly 80 per cent of the local community in Narmada district has benefitted from direct avenues of livelihood, said Rahul Patel, Public Relations Officer of the SoU Area
Development and Tourism Governance Authority
He said that several measures had been taken to empower the indigenous communities in the Narmada district. These include setting up a community radio station, skill development courses, pink e rickshaws for women and employment avenues for 108 guides. What is unique is that these guides can speak half a dozen languages, including Sanskrit.
The colossal statue of India’s iron man was built at the cost of Rs 3,000 crore. An engineering marvel, the statue was built in record time and is surrounded by an enormous man-made lake spread across 12 km
Rahul Patel said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Kevadiya as India’s first e-vehicle city on World Environment Day on June 5 last year. “As of now, seventy tribal women are operating 70 e-rickshaws to ferry tourists in Ekta Nagar tourist circuit. We have plans to give employment to 230 more women to run e rickshaws.’’
According to projections by the State government, the Statue of Unity will have an economic impact of Rs 9000 crore by 2022. This is expected to contribute to the region’s socio-economic development up to a radius of a hundred kilometres around the statue. The SoU Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority were set up in December 2020. Rahul Patel said that many relatives of Sardar Patel have visited the Statue of Unity and felt a sense of pride being there.
Home to the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, Kevadiya was a popular picnic spot even before the State of Unity came up. The statue is taller than the Spring Temple Buddha (153 metres) in China, the Lakyun Setkyar (116 metres) in Japan, the Ushiku Daibutsu in Japan (110 metres), the Statue of Liberty in the United States (97 metres), the Great Buddha in Thailand (91 metres) and the Motherland in Russia (87 metres).
PM Modi had said at the inauguration that the Statue of Unity would be a major tourist attraction. He was not wrong. More than 76 lakh tourists have visited the Statue of Unity to date. This is despite the pandemic that necessitated closure for almost seven months from March 17, 2020, to October 17, 2020.
On average, the SoU attracts a daily footfall of nearly 15,000 visitors and a weekend footfall of 20,000 to 25,000 visitors, although the Prime Minister wants the daily tourist footfall to reach one lakh. Sources in the Gujarat government claim that last year on Diwali, the SoU recorded a footfall of 55,000, the highest since the statue was inaugurated.
The tent cities and hotels in Kevadiya, renamed Ekta Nagar last December, have also emerged as a good venue for conferences. The Chief Justice of India was in Ekta Nagar recently with judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. The place also hosted a Combined Commanders Conference. This is also because Ekta Nagar has a railway station that is well connected to Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat. Inaugurated on January 17 last year, the railway station is well connected to eight major Indian cities, including Ahmedabad, Baroda, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Reeva, Surat and Varanasi. Apart from this, Indian Railways is also running a Jan Shatabdi with special vista dome coaches between Ahmedabad and Kevadiya.
PM Modi had said at the inauguration that the Statue of Unity would be a major tourist attraction. He was not wrong. More than 76 lakh tourists have visited the Statue of Unity to date. This is despite the pandemic that necessitated closure for almost seven months from March 17, 2020, to October 17, 2020
But what has gone into making this awe-inspiring structure is a fascinating story. The story goes that in 2013 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he called upon farmers across the country to contribute soil and iron for the statue. Curiously, the Secretariat in Gandhinagar received by courier a hammer from an anonymous farmer of Jharkhand. To respect the sentiment of the farmer, that hammer has been kept as an exhibit inside the SoU. The construction of the statue would not have been possible without the overwhelming response of farmers, who set an example of national unity. The ‘Loha campaign, as it came to be called, resulted in the collection of 5000 tonnes of iron from used farming implements and soil from 1,69,078 villages in India. This soil was used to build the special 350 ft.x 10 ft. ‘Wall of Unity.’
In 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 17 tourism projects around Kevadiya on the 145th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel.
Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, described the Statue of Unity project as “ a game-changer that has created ample opportunities for the tribals.” Brar, who visited Kevadiya in February 2021 for a tourism convention, said, “This is a greenfield project. The economy there has benefitted from the project. The majority of services being offered in the project employ locals as guides, in food cafes, and operating golf carts. We did a mega promotional event last year. It is an iconic statue, and we will do a promotional event in times to come.’’
Venkatesan Dhattatreya, Regional Director (western region), Ministry of Tourism, also said that the SoU project has been “ a gamechanger for the local community. The main attraction is the SoU, especially the Projection Mapping show (laser show) for 24 minutes in the evening. Tourists can now also participate in Arti in Narmada at sunset.’’
What is noteworthy is that tribal women are making the ‘Prasadam’ for the aarti. “This work has been assigned to women self-help groups from indigenous communities who are making three kinds of ‘chiki’. These women who are involved in managing the Ekta nursery’’ said Rahul Patel. Visitors can also avail of a stay in a tribal home in any of the 22 villages around the breathtaking statue and sample tribal culture.