In 2018 Prime Minister Narendra Modi realized his pet project to build the world’s tallest statue: the Statue of Unity, a 597 ft. figure of Sardar Patel overlooking the Sardar Sarovar mega-dam in the Narmada Valley. To attract visitors to this once remote and predominantly Adivasi area, the engineers’ township around the statue and dam has been developed into a tourist hub called Ekta Nagar (Unity Town). Extending from this, over tens of kilometres into and along the valley, is a series of “eco-” themed tourist attractions, all relating in various ways to what we might call “nature”: flora, fauna, and the river. This talk analyzes how, through these attractions, the physical re-shaping and semiotic re-framing of the land and river at the dam site serves to produce an ideology of nature as signifying spectacle that is at once technologically driven and aesthetico-morally loaded. This conception of nature traces its genealogy to post-Enlightenment Europe and displays elements of nature’s Western mobilizations, including its availability to nationalism, but it also comes into assemblage with a specifically neo-Hindu eco-spiritualism that shores up social and cosmological hierarchies. Across all these registers, Ekta Nagar seeks to bring the area’s remaining Adivasi communities into the fold of its natural/technological religious nationalism, both showcasing them as prized participants in its putatively ecologically harmonious “ekta” and consigning their ecological and cosmological life-worlds to the temporality of what Achille Mbembe calls “chronophagy”: an anaesthetization and disavowal of the past, and with it the constitutive violence of the state.
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