National Unity Day a black day for tribal people at Statue of Unity

Published : October 31, 2019 12:54 IST

The statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, also called the Statue of Unity, at Kevadiya Colony near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat, after it was unveiled exactly a year ago. Photo: Vijay Soneji

Tribal activists and human rights campaigners detained by Gujarat police prior to celebrations at the Statue of Unity. Photo: By special arrangement

It has been a year since the inauguration of the Statue of Unity on the 143rd anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s birth and the public relations machinery of the Narendra Modi government has created yet another event that hopes to whitewash the failures of the government. The day has been named Ekta Divas, or National Unity Day, and marathon runs have been organised all over the country as part of the Run for Unity. The Prime Minister participated in an Ekta Day parade in Kevadiya in Narmada district of Gujarat where the statue is.

For many it would be ironical that today is the also the day Jammu &Kashmir is being bifurcated. While that administrative machinery grinds on, the government is putting a spin on the day. It is being projected as the first birth anniversary of Sardar Patel after Article 370 of the Constitution was repealed, and declaring it a Day of Unity is seen as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s way of honouring Sardar Patel’s memory. It is also an occasion for the party to lambast Jawaharlal Nehru since the BJP blames Nehru for the existence of Article 370 and maintains that it would not have existed had Sardar Patel been allowed to handle Kashmir.

This level of politicking is of no concern to the tribal people who have lost their land to the Statue of Unity. Responding to the neglect that they have faced because of the construction of the statue, the tribal people have declared the day as National Disaster day and have hoisted banners that say ‘Your Tourism. Our Destruction’, and ‘Give Us Back Our Lands’. The building of the statue meant the takeover of land and the eviction of tribal people living there. Takeover of their land has disrupted their daily lives. There is nowhere to cultivate crops or even graze animals. Jobs that had been promised them have not materialised.

Preparations for the Day of Unity included detaining more than 10 human rights and tribal activists like Dr Praful Vasava, Rohit Prajapati, Krishankant and Shailesh Tadvi. “They have been picked up to suppress the anger of the villagers when Modi arrives on October 31,” said a press note from the Lokshahi Bachavo Abhiyan, an organisation formed in Gujarat to save democracy.

The Statue of Unity is just a few kilometers downstream from the gigantic Sardar Sarovar dam. Indeed, the land around the statue was initially acquired for the dam site. Later, the dam site was shifted to its current site upstream but the six villages where land had been initially acquired were left in limbo. Today the lands of Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vagadia, Kevadia and Mithi are being used for the purpose of statue-related tourism and the building of the Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan, a luxury hotel.

The Lokshahi Bachavo Abhiyan said: “This is a gross violation of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act. Consequently, people are facing the threat of summary eviction. It is important to note that the High Court has ordered ‘status quo’ in the matter. The 72 villages around the Sardar Sarovar Project are covered by Schedule V and therefore subject to the PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Area) Act, where anything that government seeks to do cannot be without the consent of the village Gramsabha. Yet Adivasi agriculture, animals, life and livelihood have been wantonly dislocated.”

Natural ecology has been destroyed to create a false and alien scenery of a Valley of Flowers, river rafting, animal safari, a zip line and a butterfly park. A region that had relative rural prosperity from farming and cattle rearing has now been torn apart. People have been displaced, livelihoods taken away have not been replaced, hundreds of old trees have been axed, the local ecology has been shredded, and standing crop has been destroyed to create parking lots. The Lokshahi Bachavo Abhiyan puts it succinctly when it says development for this government means “dispossessing the Adivasis of their jowar and bajra rotla to offer pizza and burger to the wealthy” and building a luxury hotel on land from which tribal people have been evicted.

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