India unveils world's tallest statue in tribute to independence leader Sardar Vallabbhai Patel

India has unveiled the world's tallest statue which cost £316 million to build and is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.

The 597ft (182m) tall statue of key independence leader Sardar Vallabbhai Patel was unveiled by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi hailed the Statue of Unity as a major tourist attraction and a tribute to the country's first home minister, but many critics slammed it as a waste of public money, saying that funds could have been put to better use, such as welfare programmes for the country's poor.

The statue cost £316 million to build. Credit: AP

Indian air force planes showered flower petals on the giant bronze of the "Iron Man of India" as it was unveiled on the bank of the Narmada river in Kevadiya, a village in Gujarat state, on Wednesday.

After British colonialists left India in 1947, Mr Patel worked to integrate various states in the post-independence era as the creation of Pakistan led to massive bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims moving between the two nations.

Mr Modi said Patel was a beacon of hope for India in the time of crisis and will be a source of inspiration for ages to come.

The Statue of Unity stands at 597ft tall. Credit: AP

The statue is part of a broader project by Mr Modi to counter the opposition Indian National Congress Party's firm claim on India's history by way of the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, his mentor, peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, and his daughter, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated by her guards in 1984.

Mr Nehru's great-grandson Rahul Gandhi leads the Congress Party, and if a unified opposition wins a majority of seats in the spring 2019 parliamentary elections, he could be a candidate for India's next prime minister.

The Patel statue "puts the opposition in a quandary because any criticism of Modi's showmanship will enable him to depict critics as being legatees of those who denied Patel his rightful place in the nation and history", said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a Delhi-based political analyst.

"In the process, not only will the Statue of Unity literally dwarf statues of all other Indian leaders, but the event will also enable the memory of Sardar to rise imposingly over Congress Party leaders."

It is thought the statue is an attempt by Mr Modi to link himself to Mr Patel and show continuity, as both men hail from Gujarat state.

Workers put the finishing touches to the statue. Credit: AP

The 42-month project, built by 250 engineers and 3,000 workers, began in 2013, when Mr Modi was the top elected official in Gujarat.

After he became Prime Minister in 2014, Mr Modi pledged to complete the statue despite some critics baulking at the price tag.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the statue. Credit: AP

Rashesh Patel, a 42-year-old businessman, said: “Though Patel was from Gujarat state, all Indians were proud of him because of his stature.”

The monument will have a museum with 40,000 documents, 2,000 photographs and a research centre dedicated to Patel’s life and work.

How does the 597ft (182m) bronze compare to some of the world's other iconic statues?

The Angel of the North is only 66ft tall. Credit: PA
Christ the Redeemer in Brazil is only 125ft tall. Credit: PA
The Statue of Liberty is almost half the size of the Statue of Unity. Credit: PA
The Ushiku Daibutsu in Japan is 390ft. Credit: Flickr/Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung
The Spring Temple Buddha in China is 420ft tall. Credit: Flickr/Emoji English