Hitesh Chavda, Bharuch: The locals at Kevadiya colony, house to the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity, have been seething with rage ever since the government has taken over their land to build the statue, a tribute to the iron man of India Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. So tense is the situation on the ground that cops have to even guard the posters welcoming visitors to the inauguration of the statue by PM Modi on Sardar’s birthday, i.e. on October 31, from locals and Adivasis from vandalizing it. MeraNews spoke to Adivasi community leader and Bharatiya Tribal Party leader Chhotu Vasava, where he spoke about the violation of rights of the Adivasis and accused the state government of snatching the livelihood of the locals by usurping their land to build the statue. Excerpts:

Chhotubhai, what are your thoughts on the ‘Statue of Unity’?

Building this statue was never going to benefit the locals and the Adivasis. The government is trampling upon the rights of the Adivasi community and we are protesting against the same. The government has wrongfully diverted funds meant for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities towards the construction of the statue. I am not the one who’s claiming it; this is mentioned in the CAG reports too. I’d like to ask the PM that this is not even a structure of national heritage, yet why so much money is spent on it. They didn’t even take the requisite permission for the construction that was done inside a forested tribal area near the dam. They are supposed to get permission from the NGT (National Green Tribunal) and the municipal corporation too. If they have, they should put up a board declaring it with the details like the permit number, etc. Otherwise, this is outright theft of property, a clear conspiracy by the government to encroach upon the tribal land.

What are the rights of the tribals you were talking about?

Education to the tribals, proper representation of the community whether it is in the panchayats or the parliament. The elected representatives, whether from the BJP or the Congress, have failed to raise their voices for the tribals.

But there are 27 MLAs from the Adivasi community, are they silent?

They are, but they will speak up once there is awareness amongst the people, the community. These leaders are currently the stooges of their parties, but eventually, the will have to speak, for their community, for their people, and for this awareness is a must. These leaders are currently getting everything they want easily, they get the ticket to contest elections and come to power, but all of this for being loyal to their parties. Just because their needs are met, they are silent. But the electorate, the people are yet to have their needs fulfilled.

What if the three thousand crore rupees spent for the statue were used for the Adivasis?

The community would have got education of best quality, proper irrigation facility for the farms, improvement in the health facilities. This money could have used to fight prevalent malnutrition amongst the women and children. This is something that should be provided to us rightfully. But the government doesn’t seem to be interested in giving us any of this.

How are those displaced due to the statue construction to be facilitated?

The government doesn’t wish to see our community prosper and grow. If they did, we’d have got good schools and colleges, we’d have our own universities with excellent teachers giving quality education to our children, but they want to keep us oppressed to continue ruling over us. Statue of Unity is actually a business built for usurping our land and snatching away our properties. For this, they bought the greedy ones from our community to turn their backs on us. But change is imminent and soon this will be seen in the form of large scale protest against the statue.

Tell us about the protests planned on the day of statue inauguration?

There will be a boycott of the event. Normally, lakhs of people come out to listen to the prime minister of the country speak, but this time they will have trouble in bringing even five thousand people to attend this function. People wwould have come out in numbers had they actually had any pride in this statue. This is where the government loses. If the prime minister has any self-respect, he’d cancel the event and put off his visit.

What do you have to say about the government policy for the adivasis?

The government’s policy is completely against the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Castes and the minorities. We won’t let our protest die down, we will continue with it till our needs are met. And I am sure, one day we will be at power.