Ahmedabad (AsiaNews/Agency) - Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate for the ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in India's upcoming general elections (July 2014), announced plans to build a 240-metre iron statue, the highest in the world, to stand as a symbol of Hinduism in its purest form. The structure will represent Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, home affairs minister and deputy prime minister in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's first post-independence cabinet, a man considered as one of the nation's founding fathers along with Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru.
According to the official announcement on 1 November, the monument will be built in Kevada, 100 km from Ahmedabad. At twice the height of New York's Statue of Liberty, it will be 182 metres tall, plus a base level of 58 metres. The price tag is set at INR 20 billion (US$ 336 million dollars) and the BJP has already announced its intention to go door to door to ask people for iron implements.
Narendra Modi is a controversial figure in India's current political landscape. On the one hand, he is considered a charismatic and capable leader. Thanks to a series of economic reforms, he has made Gujarat one of the richest states in the country. On the other hand, he is blamed for one of the worst sectarian massacres in recent years: the Hindu-Muslim clashes of 2002.
The move to build the statue is seen as an attempt to use the name of a hero in the struggle for independence who until now was associated with the ruling Congress party, which has always been run by members of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Various reasons are behind the decision to immortalise Patel. For many historians, he was a nationalist leader who was much closer to the 'Hindu cause' than Nehru, who made secularism his hallmark.
The project has drawn a lot of criticism. Jairam Ramesh, a minister in the ruling Congress-led cabinet, said Mr Modi's moves were an "insult" to Patel because, for him, the BJP's prime ministerial nominee was "brought up in ideologies that inspired the assassination of Gandhi".
Gandhi was assassinated by an ultranationalist Hindu, Nathuram Godse, who felt that he had betrayed the Hindu cause.