NEW Delhi:- India's prime minister on Wednesday unveiled a towering bronze statue of Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, a key independence leader and the country's first home minister after British colonialists left in 1947.
At 182 meters (597 feet), it is the tallest statue in the world built at a cost of $403 million in Kevadiya, a village in Gujarat state. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Patel hail from Gujarat state.
Modi inaugurated the "Statue of Unity" on the bank of the Narmada river. He had promised the project despite criticism that India couldn't afford to spend so much money on a statue.
"Today is a day that will be remembered in the history of India," said Modi who hailed Sardar Patel's "strategic thinking" in bringing together the disparate country after independence in 1947 and the Statue of Unity as "a symbol of our engineering and technical prowess."
Indian air force planes showered flower petals on the statue.
Patel was known as the "Iron Man of India" for integrating various states in the post-independence era as the creation of Pakistan led to a massive bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims moving between the two nations.
On Wednesday, Modi said Patel was a beacon of hope for India in the time of crisis and he will be a source of inspiration for ages to come.
Rashesh Patel, a 42-year-old businessman, said "though Patel was from Gujarat state, all Indians were proud of him because of his stature."
Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel were the three key leaders of India's independence struggle, he said.
Sardar Patel's name had been largely overshadowed by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics since 1947. But Modi-inspired nationalists have sought to put their hero back in the forefront.
The monument will have a museum with 40,000 documents, 2,000 photographs and a research center dedicated to Patel's life and work.
Online booking to visit the Statue of Unity has opened with a 350 rupee ($4.75) admission fee for the 153-meter-high observation deck.
The statue is more than twice the size of New York's Statue of Liberty and also dwarfs the 128-meter (400-feet) high Spring Temple Buddha in China, the world's next-biggest statue. It is made up of nearly 100,000 tonnes of concrete and steel.
Indian authorities hope the statue will attract 15,000 visitors a day to the remote corner of Gujarat, which is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the nearest city of Vadodora.
India is also working on a giant statue of 17th-century warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, riding a horse and brandishing a sword, which should dominate the Mumbai shoreline from 2021. The current design would make it 212 meters high.
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