India’s new budget is courting controversy after $33 million was earmarked for a statue of national icon Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, but only $25 million for women’s safety and $16.5 million for the education of young girls.
The iron-and-bronze structure, to be erected in new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat, will stand at 182 m tall — twice New York's Statue of Liberty — and so become the new tallest statue in the world.
However, the project would appear an odd priority for a nation battling rising inflation, a sluggish economy and quickly gaining a reputation as the rape capital of the world. "It is surprising," says Mumbai-based author Chandrima Pal. "Especially since one of Modi's key poll pegs was security for women and he ran a massive campaign around that."
The total cost of immortalizing Patel, who was Home Minister in the government of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is estimated at some $338 million, the rest to be filled by donations and private-sector investment.
But public opposition to the statue is growing — the project was rated "most disliked" on the website of NDTV news channel, and the Times of India newspaper started a social-media survey asking the loaded question of whether the project was "wasteful expenditure." Mayank Jain, a youth activist and a finance student in the capital, New Delhi, decried a "complete failure of prioritization."
The Modi government, though, would appear unmoved. Despite the uproar, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said during a postbudget chitchat with NDTV that he had "absolutely no regrets."