TIME India

India Sees Red Over $33 Million Statue in PM Modi’s First Budget

India Budget
Manish Swarup—AP Photo An Indian worker carries a sack containing copies of the 2014-15 union budget at the Indian parliament in New Delhi, Thursday, July 10, 2014.

Opponents accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of putting the reverence of long-dead founding fathers over the safety of India's women

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.”

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