Mayawati's legacy in stone: Symbolism that does not wash
Akshaya Mishra Feb 13, 2012
Lucknow: Mayawati has carved her legacy in stone. Two centuries from
now, any tourist to Lucknow would stand mesmerised at the beauty and
grandeur of the Ambedkar Memorial and Manyawar Kashiram Ji Smarak
Sthal, saluting in silence the aesthetic vision of the ruler who made
such works possible. He would not hesitate to equate these with other
medieval architectural marvels in the state, which include Shah
Jahan's elegy in stone, Taj Mahal.
Right now, not many in Lucknow are impressed. In fact, many have
developed a healthy distaste for stones, particularly red sand stone
and marbles. Red sand stone, quarried in Chunnar and sent for
finishing touches to Rajasthan before being transported to Lucknow,
has been used in profusion in making statues in both the memorials.
Certain statues have been carved out of marble.
"Sab fizul ka kharcha hai saab. Pata nahin patthar ke pichhe itna
paisa kyun dal rahe hai (All this is unnecessary expenditure. God
knows why she is spending so much on stones)," says a bystander at the
gate of the Ambedkar Park. "Mayawati ke raj mein sirf patthar hi
patthar sab kuch hai (Everything in Mawati's regime is about stones),
says another, clearly disinterested in the stunning visual around. In
Lucknow, you don't find many who appreciate the extravaganza in red
Lucknow can ill-afford to waste prime real estate – the sprawling
Ambedkar Park is spread over an area of around 120 acres and the
Kanshiram Smarak around 85 acres – in fanciful notions of glory.
You tend to agree with them. Symbolism and substance are totally
mismatched in Mayawati's dream projects — these don't even go with the
character of Lucknow. In this election, voters here would certainly
draw up the contrast between their reality and her grand ideas. They
would give a deep thought to whether the great Moghul of the modern
times fits in to their expectations.
Their reality is grim indeed. Lucknow does not give you the feel of a
vibrant, upwardly mobile city, certainly not the capital city of a
state that can afford to spend on Rs 2000-crore upwards to preserve
the memory of Dalit icons, or any icon for that matter. The city can
ill-afford to waste prime real estate – the sprawling Ambedkar Park is
spread over an area of around 120 acres and the Kanshiram Smarak
around 85 acres – in fanciful notions of glory.
UP, for the records is one of the worst performing states in the
country on several economic and human index parameters. Poorvanchal
and the Bundelkhand areas wallow in abject poverty. The industry
scenario is bleak with political instability dogging the state. Its
record in crime and corruption is dismal too. But it has the richest
chief minister – her personal assets, in her own submission before the
election commission, are worth Rs 87 crore – in the country. This is
where the contrast between the symbol and the substance kicks in.
People here are not against symbolism per se. But they are irked at
the extravagance associated with it. "Kanshiram aur Ambedkar thik hai
par yeh log aise paisa udate kya? Wo bhi is statue ke upar. Mayawati
khudko UP ki maharani sochti hai (Kanshiram and Ambedkar are alright
but would they spend money like this? Mayawati thinks she is the
maharani of UP) says a local resident. The cost of the Ambedkar
Memorial is pegged at more than Rs 3,000 crore while Kanshiram Smarak
is likely to cross Rs 500 crore-mark easily. We have not taken into
account other projects driven by the Dalit agenda yet. The combined
worth of all these could go well over a thousand crore.
What does Mayawati want to convey through the parks and memorials?
Well, if she wants to convey that the Dalits have arrived, she is not
sending the message in the right way. Dalits have tasted power and
social dignity hitherto denied to them historically under her. But her
biggest success as a leader would be if she manages to integrate them
into the social mainstream. That has not happened as yet.
She has managed to transform what was supposed to be a social movement
in the vision of Ambedkar and later Kanshiram to a political
statement. If her insistence on symbols means anything, it has to be
that Dalits are a political force now, nothing more than that.
Two hundred years from now, parks and monuments would put her on an
equal footing with the Moghul monarchs and perhaps the British
viceroys who built monuments to convey the power of the Empire, but
the present would it difficult to forgive her extravagance.
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