The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh says it will build the world’s tallest statue, weeks after the current record holder – an 182-metre likeness of founding father Sardar Patel – was completed in another part of the country.
If constructed, the 221m-high effigy of the Hindu god Ram in the town of Ayodhya could make India home to the world’s three tallest statues, with a 212-metre likeness of the medieval ruler Shivaji also currently under construction off the coast of Mumbai.
Plans for the bronze Ram statue were unveiled over the weekend, with five construction firms giving presentations to the the state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu monk accused of instigating violence against’s the state’s Muslim minority.
Ayodhya has been considered a crucible for the Hindu nationalist movement since 1992, when thousands of adherents stormed a Mughal-era mosque in the town and demolished it, believing it was built at the site where Ram was born, and where an ancient Hindu temple had been torn down by earlier Muslim rulers.
The demolition triggered riots in which nearly 2,000 people died. Several senior officials from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, including former government ministers and serving state governors, have been indicted for instigating the destruction of the mosque.
An estimated 50,000 Hindu nationalists rallied in Ayodhya on Sunday demanding prime minister Narendra Modi’s party build a temple to Ram on the site.
“Do whatever it is you have to do,” Uddhav Thackeray, the leader of the far-right Shiv Sena group, said on Sunday. “A temple has to be built. This government is very powerful and if they don’t build a temple they will not be in government.”
Successive BJP governments have promised to build a Ram temple on the site but say they are unable to do so until the Indian supreme court rules on how the land should be used. The court will hold hearings on the issue next year.
The statue – along with a decision this month to rename the surrounding district from its Mughal-era name Faizabad to Ayodhya – are seen as efforts to temper the anger of rightwing Hindu groups at the continued delay in building the temple, despite the fact religious nationalists are in power nationally and in states across the country.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a group of Islamic leaders, said Sunday’s rally in Ayodhya had “terrified” Muslims in the city. “The Muslims living in Ayodhya are terrified for the past week,” the board’s chief, Zafaryab Jilani, said. “We have also asked those feeling insecure to come to [the Uttar Pradesh capital] Lucknow if they want.”
The cost of the statue is yet to be announced but is also likely to provoke criticism in a state with the country’s highest levels of malnutrition, and where 325 children died in a single month last year when a government hospital was unable to afford to maintain oxygen supplies.