Many people are reluctant to speak out against the massive spending for fear of being branded as unpatriotic
The head of the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel being taken for installation near Kevadia at the Narmada Dam site in Ahmedabad on Nov 1. (Photo by IANS)
More than a billion dollars is being spent on giant statues of a nationalist leader, a former king and a Hindu deity in three Indian states where poverty is widespread.
All of the states involved are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which uses jingoism and triumphalism to swing votes their way.
Pravin Mishra, a civil rights activist, said the phenomenon neglected practical needs of ordinary people such as improving health and education services.
In Gujarat, a 213-meter statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a prominent leader of India’s freedom struggle and a native of the state, is under construction at an estimated cost of US$470 million.
In neighboring Maharashtra, a 61-meter statue of Shivaji, a 17th century Maratha king, is being built for US$300 million.
In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, US$300 million has been allocated for a 91-meter statue of Hindu lord Ram.
Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 200 million, had the highest proportion of homeless people in India (18.56%) followed by Maharashtra (11.9%) and Rajasthan (10.24%).
Mishra notes that the International Food Policy Research Institute recently ranked India at 100th out of 119 countries on its global hunger index, behind North Korea, Bangladesh and Iraq.
India was at 97th position last year.
Mishra said while illiteracy and a shortage of doctors was widespread, the BJP promoted "fake Hindu pride" in a bid to win votes.
Many people were reluctant to speak out against the massive spending on statue building for fear of being branded as unpatriotic.
Mishra complained that this was the way "fascism" developed.
Uttar Pradesh farmers' union leader Tularam Sharma notes that since 2013 some 12,000 heavily indebted Indian farmers have committed suicide.
"The government should have been considerate to the plight of these farmers, ahead of building tall statues," Sharma told ucanews.com.
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