India to inaugurate world’s biggest statue

SARDAR SAROVAR DAM, India -- Thousands of police guarded the world’s biggest statue ahead of its inauguration by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday with local people threatening protests over the enormous figure.

Activists said about a dozen of their leaders had been detained ahead of the spectacular opening of the 182-metre (600-foot) tall tribute to Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, with air force jets and helicopters to shower flowers on the statue during a flypast.

Anand Mazgaonkar, a community group leader in Narmada district of Gujarat state where the statue has been built over the past four years, said plain clothes police took away 12 people late Tuesday to the local police headquarters.

Police denied they had made any detentions. But authorities are taking no chances in case community groups stage protests to demand compensation for land taken to erect the Statue of Unity, which cost 29.9 billion rupees ($400 million).

“More than 5,000 police personnel have been deployed at various points in the 10 kilometre radius of the statue site,” said Narmada police inspector general Abhay Chudasama.

“Police patrolling has been intensified in the wake of protests by the local tribal community and leaders. Drones and helicopters will be keeping watch on the entire area,” he told reporters.

Posters of Modi with Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani were torn down or had their faces blackened at the weekend. The chiefs of 22 villages around the statue signed an open letter calling on Modi to stay away from the inauguration. Police guards kept watch on posters put in place of the torn ones.

Local legislator and community group leader Chotu Vasava reaffirmed a threat to stage protests on the eve of the ceremonies around the statue of Sardar Patel, who played a key role in unifying India after its independence in 1947.