Late last month, India unveiled a gargantuan statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the country’s first deputy prime minister. At nearly 600-feet tall, the bronze monument is almost double the height of the Statue of Liberty, and soars above China’s Spring Temple Buddha, which formerly boasted the title of the world’s tallest statue. But the Patel monument may not hold its record for long. According to Rahul Bedi of the Telegraph, plans are already underway to build an even larger statue in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Should it come to fruition, the proposed monument will be a 725-foot bronze statue of the Hindu god Ram. It will stand on the shore of the Saryu river in the city of Ayodhya, which Hindu groups believe to be Ram’s birthplace. The height of the Ram monument is slated to surpass yet another mammoth statue currently under construction in Mumbai: a likeness of the medieval Indian ruler Shivaji, which is expected to stand at nearly 700-feet tall when it is completed.
What is driving India’s push for colossal monuments? According to CNN’s Oscar Holland, some see the projects as “inherently political.” The Patel statue, for instance, was a pet project of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom critics accused of trying to co-opt the legacy of a pioneering and widely admired politician. And the reign of Shivaji is seen as a “golden era” by India’s Hindu nationalist movement, Holland writes.
The latest statue also seems to play a role in the country’s complex political landscape. Ayodhya, where the monument will stand, has been a focal point of the nationalist movement since 1992, when thousands of Hindu hardliners demolished a 16th-century mosque that they claimed sat on the precise location of Ram’s birthplace. Riots subsequently erupted in Ayodhya, leading to the deaths of 2,000 people, most of them Muslim, according to Bedi.
In the years since, the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been promising to build a temple to Ram on the site of the god’s supposed birthplace, but plans cannot move forward until India’s Supreme Court rules on how the land can be used, explains Michael Safi of the Guardian. The court is expected to hold hearings on the matter next year, but patience is wearing thin among those who want to see the temple built. On Sunday, 50,000 protestors gathered in Ayodhya, calling for their demands to be met.
Some see the newly announced statue as an effort to placate right-wing groups that are incensed over the delay in approving the temple. Over the weekend, five construction firms presented their designs for the monument to Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who has been accused of inciting violence against the state’s Muslim minority. Adityanath “finalized the details” of the statue, which include plans for a nearby museum that will explore the history of Ayodhya.
Iin light of the recent protests, Muslims in Ayodhya worry that anger is still brewing. Zafaryab Jilani, chief of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, tells the Guardian’s Safi that the city’s Muslim population has been "terrified for the past week."