India’s prime minister has unveiled a towering bronze statue of Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, a key independence leader and the country’s first home minister after British colonialists left in 1947.

At 597ft, it is one of the tallest statues in the world built at a cost of more than £300 million in Kevadiya, a village in Gujarat state. Prime minister Narendra Modi and Patel hail from Gujarat.

Mr Modi inaugurated the “Statue of Unity” on the bank of the Narmada river. He had promised the project despite criticism that India could not afford to spend so much on a statue.

Indian air force planes showered flower petals on the statue.

Patel was known as the “Iron Man of India” for integrating 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.

Narendra Modi waves during the inaugurationNarendra Modi waves during the inauguration (Ajit Solanki/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.”

Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel were the three key leaders of India’s independence struggle, he said.

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