January 10, 2012 8:11 pm
Mammoth problem for the Dalit queen
By James Crabtree
If Rahul Gandhi is to follow the family tradition and triumph in
Indian politics he is going to need a lucky charm. Might that just be
his nation's symbol: the elephant? The heir to India's most celebrated
political dynasty has staked his reputation on elections in Uttar
Pradesh, due in March. But to make progress in the country's most
populous state he must overcome a wily opponent: Mayawati, often known
as the "Dalit queen".
Ms Mayawati, the state's chief minister, is renowned for her fiery
speeches in favour of India's lower castes (from whom she draws
support) and her habit of erecting large statues in her honour. But
this latter tendency has landed her in trouble – and perhaps boosted
Mr Gandhi's chances – after an unusual ruling by the election
The regulators decreed not only that her statues must be covered in
the campaign, for fear they influence voters, but all the state's many
elephant statues be shrouded too, on the grounds that her party use
the animal as a logo.
The decision has left local authorities in a pickle. They have little
time, having been set a deadline of 5pm today. More worryingly they
seem to have little material, leading frantic local bureaucrats to
ship in extra sheets to shroud around a dozen representations of Ms
Mayawati and 100s more elephants.
Pictures of a handful of stone pachyderms draped in pink plastic
emerged on Tuesday. Doubts must remain whether all will be hidden
before the deadline. Mr Gandhi must be hoping they are. Even in a
nation known for its corruption this may prove a cover-up too far.
Tata's slum dogs
The Tata Group is attempting a transfer of power of its own, as
chairman Ratan Tata prepares to hand over the reins. Little is known
about his successor, Cyrus Mistry, leading to much speculation about
what the move will mean for India's most global company. Yet a crucial
question has gone unanswered: what will become of the office dogs?
A noted dog lover, Mr Tata can sometimes be spotted strolling in a
park near his seaside home, accompanied by his two Alsatians Tito and
Tango. The animals bring out the elderly tycoon's indulgent side, with
one friend remembering his habit of feeding one of the dogs "a pack of
Swiss chocolates everyday before heading to work". But it is his
willingness to bringdogs to work that most strikes visitors to the
Tata's Mumbai headquarters.
The reception features the usual array of gleaming X-ray machines and
officious security guards. More unusually for a global multinational,
however, it also sports some half a dozen stray dogs. The legend goes
that more than a decade back Mr Tata took pity on the many animals
sheltering outside his office on a wet night, and decreed that any
clever enough to enter the building should be allowed to stay. Some
did, and so were born a pack of real life slum dog millionaires.
No actual security work is expected, of course, which is just as well,
given most spend their days snoozing on the floor. Food is even
provided, by chefs at Tata's canteen. Indeed the dogs had not a care
in the world, until Mr Mistry arrived on the scene. Given all the
mystery surrounding him – profiles note helpfully that he "loves cars"
and "likes golf" – his silence on canine matters should come as no
surprise. Tata's slum dogs can only hope that their new master will
not hound them out.
Sachin's Swami Army
Another group hoping for good fortune: India's cricket fans. Two
thumping defeats against Australia have left this cricket-mad nation
distraught, as their tour down under threatens to turn into a rout.
Worse still, its favourite player, Sachin Tendulkar, has again failed
to score his 100th international Test match century – a milestone
unparalleled in the history of the game, and one the "little master"
is, right at the end, finding it hard to pass. Thankfully the players
can count on the support of a hardy band of supporters: the Swami
Army. The group has been in good voice despite the setbacks, even
concocting a song in praise of Mr Tendulkar's talents. Set to the tune
of Waltzing Matilda, the lyrics go: "Sachin Tendulkar, he is our god,
and he bats and he bats and he'll score another century." All of India
hopes they will be proved right.
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