General view of the "Statue of Unity" portraying Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of the founding fathers of India. (REUTERS/Amit Dave)

INDIAN prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday (18) said Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s imposing statue in Gujarat has not been built to “belittle” former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Speaking at an election rally, Modi said: “Don’t you feel proud when the Statue of Unity and Gujarat’s name appear when you search for the world’s tallest statue on Google?

“I have not built Sardar Patel’s statue to belittle Pandit Nehru. Patel’s stature is so tall that you don’t have to try too hard to make others look smaller.”

The ‘Statue of Unity’, dedicated to Sardar Patel, was unveiled by Modi on October 31 last year, on Patel’s 143rd birth anniversary. The 182-metre tall statue was built at a cost of Rs 2,389 crore. The monument is twice the height of Statue of Liberty and is built on an islet, Sadhu Bet, near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Narmada district.

Ahead of the statue’s inauguration, headmen of 22 villages situated near the Sardar Sarovar Dam wrote a letter to Modi alleging people’s hard-earned money was being wasted on projects such as building statues when several villages were still being deprived of facilities such as schools and hospitals.

“If Sardar Patel could see the mass destruction of natural resources and injustice done to us, he would cry. When we are raising our issues, we are persecuted by police. Why you are not ready to listen to our plight?” the letter said.