Police in Gujarat arrested several tribal activists in Narmada district on Tuesday, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates a statue of Vallabhbhai Patel, IANS reported. The activists were detained in Kevadia, Rajpipla and Dediapada talukas. The Statue of Unity, built at a cost of about Rs 3,000 crore, will be the tallest in the world at a height of 182 metres.
Thousands of police officers have been deployed to guard the statue, according to AFP. Farmers and Adivasi activists have threatened protests on the day of the inauguration to demand compensation for the land used to build the statue and called the project a waste of people’s money.
“The police came to my house in Kevadia and arrested me and is now taking me to some place,” one of the detained persons, Lakhan Musaafir, told IANS. “We will be detained for 24 hours and then they will release us when the Wednesday’s programmes get over.”
Social worker Anand Mazgaonkar said: “Tribal people in entire eastern Gujarat are angry at this show of pomp. Their anger is also expressed in a peaceful manner as they have announced boycott, fast, and shutdown of the whole tribal belt. They have done so in the face of extreme pressure and intimidation.”
In a statement, Mazgaonkar and other activists said that a “whole government – the executive, administration, regular police, [Central] Reserve Police Force, Home Guards – from across the state has descended on Kevadia for the 31st October ‘tamasha’ being conducted in the name of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel”.
“Tens of thousands of trees have been chopped off for road widening, houses pulled down, people summarily thrown out,” the activists said.
“The first six villages acquired for Sardar Sarovar staff colonies were never recognised as project-affected,” the statement read. “They are fighting back. The 19 villages that were, in fact, recognised as project-affected are fighting because promises made to them again and again were not kept. The seven villages that would be affected by Garudeshwar weir are fighting for their rights. The 28 villages on the right bank of Main Canal, under whose noses the water flows, are not allowed a drop of water for their parched farms in this rain-scarce year have resolved to fight.”
“The myriad project-affected – those that were displaced, those that were promised rehabilitation, those that were promised water – are all coming together,” the activists said. “They are boycotting tomorrow’s [Wednesday’s] programme. Their cooking stoves shall remain cold tomorrow. The Adivasi is in mourning. They understand it is not just their livelihood, lifestyle, life under threat but their culture being destroyed.”
“When a power-drunk government sees itself in the mirror it deludes itself into believing that it can survive by rounding up those who speak truth to power,” the activists said.
Protest by farmers
Meanwhile, Patidar leader Hardik Patel has called for a protest by over 40,000 farmers in Junagadh district on Wednesday to press demands such as loan waivers and reservations for the community, which he said would be a true tribute to Vallabhbhai Patel, PTI reported. India’s first home minister would have never wanted such a monument for himself, said the Patidar leader.
Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Shatrughan Sinha will join the protest, he said.
On Monday, the heads of 22 villages near the Sardar Sarovar Dam had written to Modi to tell him that the villagers would not welcome him for the inauguration of the statue. Adivasi leaders had announced a boycott of the function. They have said the construction of the statue has led to destruction of natural resources.
The village headmen said citizens’ hard-earned money had been wasted on such projects.
“These forests, rivers, waterfalls, land and agriculture supported us for generations. We survived on them. But, everything is being destroyed now and celebrations are also planned. Don’t you think its akin to celebrating someone’s death? We feel so.”
Several farmers awaiting dues for their sugarcane have threatened to drown themselves when the statue is inaugurated, The Indian Express reported on Monday.
Planes and dance troupes for inauguration
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said it was a historic day as the tallest statue in the world will be dedicated to the nation. “It was the dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the time he was Gujarat chief minister,” Rupani said. “His dream is coming true.”
On Monday, Chief Secretary JN Singh had visited the site to take stock of preparations for the function, PTI reported. “We have invited dance troupes from across the country to perform here during the inauguration,” he said. “Air Force planes and helicopters would shower flowers on the statue during unveiling.”