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The statue of unity and other statues

When I think of statues, I think of Mayawati, the four-time chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. She spent the state coffers in setting up her larger than life casts, and you couldn’t call it outstanding.
I must thank Modi for helping me shift my focus. We now have the Statue of Unity, which at a height 183 metre (597 feet) is the tallest in the world. Well, it’s not just sculpture but has a tourist eco-system built around it. Set in the backdrop of the Narmada river with a 3-star hotel and a shopping centre to boot, there are high-speed elevators that will take you to the chest of the statue, where about 200 people can stand and watch the scenic surrounding.
What should have been a celebratory event even, if you disagree with the spending, was shot out by the sheer pettiness of the political class. Having been state-level politicians for years, when the elevation to the national level happened, statesmanship was not imbibed. Look at the irony. Patel, the architect of unity, has his statue unveiled in an air of disunity. No one from the opposition parties was either invited or turned up. One might say that it does not matter, but irony died a million times that evening.
I have no quarrels with the government spending Rs 3000 crore of taxpayer money. Yes, we could have built world class schools or hospitals with it in the Sardar’s name. But it’s for the state to decide what it wants to do just as the government does not ask me what I do with my after-tax earning. Should public sector units be liberal in funding these projects, more so those who aren’t in the pink of health? Well, Indian PSUs have been so abused by successive governments that such things no longer surprise us. We have Air India as the standing example of how a milk cow has been squeezed dry by the political class. It’s an open secret that PSUs run at the command and control of the governments that be.
Finally, should funding the statue qualify under CSR spending? Of course, not. We cannot stretch the definition to the point of breaking it. Setting up statues is in no way a corporate social responsibility. Maintaining a heritage structure can surely be one, but this isn’t one. 75 years later, maybe it could. Next up, a company could get away saying education of the managing director’s son abroad is a CSR activity.
Interestingly, several states are coming out with their pet statues. Rajasthan has completed 85 per cent work on a 351 feet tall Shiva Murti, scheduled for inauguration in 2019. Uttar Pradesh is building a Ram statue in Ayodhya at a 150-meter height and would spend above Rs 1000 crore on it. And in Andhra Pradesh, Naidu’s legislative assembly building will be taller than Patel’s statue! The Karnataka state government is planning a 125-feet tall statue of Mother Cauvery near the Krishnarajasagara Dam at the cost of Rs 1200 crore. In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena asked Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to ensure the Shivaji Statue is taller than the Statue of Unity and not be scared of the Modi-Shah duo on that score!
The Statue of Unity may not be a project that has to go through a cost-benefit analysis if the intention is recognizing the Ironman than attract tourists. Yet if one were to do so, and we chose 8 per cent as the time value of money it would have to earn an annual income of Rs. 90 crore to perpetuity, growing at 3 per cent forever, for it to just break even.
With due respect, Modi’s party has no heroes from the pre-independence era. To appropriate one of the tallest pan-India leaders as its own is an old trick. You can expect to see more such tricks in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

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