The Statue of Unity – a 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – is the centrepiece of the Modi government’s campaign in Gujarat. With almost 20 tourist attractions around it, the monument carries the promise of development and tourism. In a speech, PM Modi said the statue will usher in an era of progress for local Adivasis and their villages dotting the monument landscape.
Four years after the statue’s inauguration, we visited some of the villages around it to assess the situation.
All is not well. Adivasis, mainly from the Bhil community, said they lost their land to the statue and have not benefited yet from the tourism prospects around it. The land conflict in tribal areas of the Narmada district is age-old and every government has grappled with it. The government has reached out to the Adivasis with promises of development, but grievances and resentment remain around the question of who will benefit from the development.
While the monument opened up scores of job opportunities for ‘outsiders’, the youth from these villages have been left behind. Some big hotels and restaurants have sprung up on their ancestral land, but the Adivasis still haven’t found employment.
The monument and its surroundings are governed by the Statue of Unity area development and tourism authority. Officials told us nearly 13,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in various projects in and around the monument. There’s a newly-built McDonalds staffed by local women and some success stories, like Adivasi women driving the pink autos that ferry tourists from the ticket counter to the monument. But hawkers who set up shop around the area also said they’re routinely shooed away by the police.