Constructing an “Iron” Unity: The Statue of Unity and India’s Nationalist Historiography

Alexander Davis, Ruth Gamble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In October 2018, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi inaugurated a pet project, the “Statue of Unity”, in Gujarat, India. The world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity cost USD416.67 million to construct, and depicts India’s first deputy prime minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the “Iron Man of India”, staring resolutely out over the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam. This article examines the meanings of the statue as a political project of memorialisation. We argue that the statue is an attempt to reimagine India’s nationalist historiography around Patel, taking the emphasis off the secular, socialist first Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru. In doing so, the statue constructs a hyper-masculine idea of India centred on an assimilatory idea of “unity”. The statue’s construction materially enforced this symbolism by pushing aside the site’s previous Adivasi owners, and presents an ordered, majoritarian, business-led vision of public space in Modi’s India. Within this space, the statue materialises Patel as the image of Indian identity. He is made from the stuff of progress, concrete and
reinforced steel, and coated in bronze, which links his image with India’s long history of religious statue-making. The project then circulates these ideas through tourist marketing and visitor experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-304
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics & History
Volume66
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2020

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