On October 31, PM Modi dedicated to the nation the Statue of Unity (SoU), the latest and ultimate symbol of nationalism ‘on your sleeve’. Built at a whopping cost of Rs. 2989 crore, the splurge even got the UK parliamentarians apoplectic, since they sanction billions of pounds in aid to our third world country.
In all fairness, the SoU has been attracting a record number of visitors since its opening. The tourism infrastructure around the monument is world class. We sincerely hope it becomes iconic like the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower, both of which it overshadows by simply being taller.
However, in this age of Responsible Tourism, the protests by locals in front of the SoU is not encouraging at all.
To play devil’s advocate, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal are not modern day tourism projects. There is deep-rooted history associated with those structures which allures tourists. The Eiffel Tower today attracts 7 million visitors every year, around 75 per cent of whom are foreigners whereas The Taj Mahal, India’s most sought -after monuments and one of the wonders of the world, attracts 8 million visitors annually; only 10 per cent of whom are foreigners. Also, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal are located comfortably within or near highly sought-after destinations. The SoU is over 200 km from Ahmedabad and 420 km from Mumbai – not so appealing location-wise.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the exceptions here where modern day monuments like the Burj Khalifa have successfully drawn tourists. The UAE has had to resort to such a strategy because they had nothing there for leverage from a tourism standpoint. Their success has to be attributed to long-term vision, excellent story telling and commendable marketing. Are we going that route? Should we, when we have hundreds of monuments steeped in culture and heritage, but in dilapidated condition and unfit for tourism? Wasn’t spending Rs. 2989 crore on improving existing monuments a better plan?
The idea can also be challenged on the ground that it smacks of ulterior motives. Be it for championing nationalism or driving identity politics, Gujarat’s bold act could manifest in a ‘demonstration effect’ as regional satraps start announcing bigger and taller projects to celebrate their political, religious and cultural leaders, and appease vote banks. It will not be long before we will have to visit Nehru, Bose, Indira, MGR or even EMS as tourists! SoU sets a dangerous precedent in that sense. What about Gandhiji? Will he make the list?
Monumental fiasco or monumental feat, time will tell. We just hope it’s the latter.
Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas!