India inaugurated the world’s tallest statue on Wednesday with fireworks, folk dances and floral tributes, deploying tight security amid an outcry by local groups over the soaring cost of the 182-metre (600-feet) sculpture of an independence hero.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially opened the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel describing the completion of his pet project as “a day that will be remembered in the history of India”.
Air force jets flew over the giant figure and clouds of rose petals were dropped from helicopters onto its head as Modi bent in front of the statue on the ground.
Modi hailed Sardar Patel’s “strategic thinking” in bringing together the disparate country after independence in 1947 and described the Statue of Unity as “a symbol of our engineering and technical prowess”.
More than 5,000 armed police guarded the huge site in a remote corner of Gujarat state, with Anand Mazgaonkar, a community group leader in Narmada district, accusing plain clothes officers of detaining 12 people late Tuesday. Police denied the claims.
But the authorities took no chances in case community groups staged protests to condemn the decision to spend 29.9 billion rupees ($400 million) — much of it public funds — to build the statue over a nearly four-year period. Hundreds of Chinese have been among the 3,500 workers involved in its construction.
Drones and helicopters kept watch on the area, according to police, after the chiefs of 22 villages signed a letter calling on Modi to stay away from the inauguration.
Posters of Modi with Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani were torn down or had their faces blackened at the weekend. Police guarded new posters put in their place.