Leaders across the political spectrum on Wednesday paid tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on his 143rd birth anniversary for his “strong leadership” and “steely will”, but criticised the Narendra Modi government’s decision to unveil a 182-metre-high statue of Patel in Gujarat’s Narmada district.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi said it was ironic that Patel’s statue had been inaugurated “but every institution he helped build is being smashed”. “The systematic destruction of India’s institutions is nothing short of treason,” Gandhi added. His comments came in the wake of an ongoing tussle between the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India and the crisis in the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Gandhi said Patel was a Congressman who had no tolerance for “bigotry or communalism”.

The Statue of Unity had been built at a cost of about Rs 3,000 crore and is the tallest in the world, surpassing China’s Spring Temple Buddha (128 metres).

Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge questioned why other leaders who fought for the country were not remembered. “Why did your party, your RSS organisation not remember them for nearly 70 years? This is all stunt,” ANI quoted him as saying.

Kharge accused Modi of playing politics, “creating confusion and diverting from issues as he is facing several problems.” “Let’s see how people react in 2019, I hope they take a sensible decision,” the Congress leader said.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati demanded an apology from the BJP for criticising her for installing statues of Dalit leaders during her term as Uttar Pradesh chief minister, PTI reported.

“All those in the BJP, the RSS and company need to apologise, especially to the people of the Bahujan Samaj, for terming the statues installed by the then BSP government to honour icons like Baba Saheb Ambedkar and others as wasteful expenditure,” she said in a statement.

The BSP chief questioned why the BJP had not built Patel’s statue in Gujarat earlier despite being in power in the state for a long time. “The people of the country are also wondering if all this is not politics...”

She also questioned the English nomenclature of the statue. Mayawati added that the “foreign stamp on the construction of Patel’s statue” will trouble the leader’s followers and accused the BJP and its government at the Centre of confining Patel to a region, calling it an example of the BJP’s narrow-mindedness.

Communist Party of India General Secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy demanded to know why a bigger statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in Gujarat like Patel, had not been built. “They [BJP] do not like his [Gandhi’s] secularism, that is why they have not taken up [build his statue],” PTI quoted Reddy as saying. “Instead, they have gone for Patel, who had rightist ideas.”

The BJP was trying to appropriate Patel’s legacy and “snatch Patel from Congress party” since they do not have a national leader of big stature, Reddy added.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also questioned why the BJP had not built a bigger statue of Gandhi, reported PTI. “The biggest one is in Parliament..But this is a 182 metre statue for his disciple,” Tharoor said. “Why is there such a big statue for a disciple of Gandhiji in the country where there is no statue of that size for the Mahatma?”

He said the BJP was trying to hijack the legacy of freedom fighters and national heroes such as Patel as it has no leaders whose legacy it can celebrate.

Adivasi activists released

Meanwhile, police have released several Adivasi activists who were detained in Narmada and Surat districts ahead of the statue’s inauguration. A group of activists who were released from the Rajpipla police station around 3 pm raised slogans outside the police station. They had been detained for more than 15 hours.

Farmers and adivasi activists had threatened to protest on Wednesday, demanding compensation for land used to build the statue.