March 6, 2012, 9:35 am
When the Leader Goes, Should the Statues Follow?
By NIKHILA GILL and MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE
As it became apparent that the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Mayawati,
will no longer be returning to power in Uttar Pradesh, India's most
populous state, a very pressing question arose:
What should happen to the statues she installed across the state
during her term as chief minister — particularly those of herself?
Hundreds of stone elephants, the party symbol, and nearly a dozen
stone Mayawati statues, as well as statues of other Dalit leaders,
were erected in two mammoth, multi-million dollar parks in the state
during the time she was chief minister.
The question is so pressing that it was addressed by Akhilesh Yadav,
the new young star from the state's winning Samajwadi Party on Tuesday
afternoon. He promised not to raze them.
His father, the party's leader who is also the top contender for chief
minister, may have other ideas.
In 2009, Mulayam Singh Yadav denounced Ms. Mayawati's memorial
constructions as a colossal waste of public money and pledged to
bulldoze them, when he came back to power. Mr. Yadav later amended his
statement to reflect a more positive view, saying his party would set
up schools and hospitals at the memorial site (presumably after
bulldozing the statues).
Nitin Gadkari, the leader of the Bharatiya Jana Party, promised
earlier to actually add more statues (not, of course, of Ms.
Mayawati). "Statues of Kabir, Sant Ravidas, martyr Uda Devi, Jhalkari
Bai and Bijli Pasi, and other great personalities of all sections will
be installed in memorials and parks constructed during Mayawati's
regime,'' he said in an official release before the elections.
Congress has never recommended a course of action for the statue
parks, but has previously strongly condemned the waste of public
funds. (The party won just 28 seats in Uttar Pradesh, so is unlikely
to be recommending a course of action in the state in the near
In spite of the wrath the statues incur in Ms. Mayawati's political
opponents, they (and Uttar Pradesh's 200 million people) may just need
to live with them:
It appears that Ms. Mayawati was aware that her decision to build
memorials could be challenged in the courts. The state government
under her rule allocated 194 croe, or 1.9 billion rupees ($38 million)
to carry out construction activities by the U.P. Culture Department,
Zee news reported that year.
The allocation, through the state's culture department, had the
desired effect. In response to an application asking that the
installation of the statues be halted, the Supreme Court refused to
restrain the Uttar Pradesh government, stating that it cannot
interfere in a matter approved by the state cabinet.
Not surprisingly, advocate Ravi Kant, who filed the public interest
litigation asking for the statues to be removed, disagrees with that
decision. "Now that the Election Commission has ruled that the statues
are the BSP's election symbol, these constructions are in violation of
the Election Symbols Order, 1968 Commission as well as a misuse of
public funds," he argues.
Mr. Kant said he plans to file another petition asking for Ms.
Mayawati's statues to be removed and for the BSP's election symbol to
Public sentiment on the statues is mixed.
Kamal Kant Jaswal, director of Common Cause, an activist group, filed
a petition with the Election Commission, stating that the ubiquitous
statues create an unequal playing ground and asking for the party's
election symbol to be changed.
Still, he believes that it will be very difficult to demolish the
statues. "There are sentiments attached to memorials and these are
ostensibly memorials to Dalit leaders. So any political leader will
find it difficult to abolish such statues," Mr. Jaswal said.
Ms. Mayawati's initiative is hardly the first of its kind. As chief
minister of Andhra Pradesh and leader of the Telugu Desam Party, N.T.
Rama Rao commissioned statues of important poets, freedom fighters and
social activists in Hyderabad. The opposing Congress Party seized
power seven years ago and left the statues, but pro-Telangana state
protesters destroyed some of them last year during a march.
Given the size and scope of the parks Ms. Mayawati created, making
changes is going to take time and money.
One park, in Noida, situated east of New Delhi, is spread over 82
acres along the Yamuna River. It was constructed at the cost of $130
million, and has 24 huge statues of elephants, and one of Ms.
Mayawati. Over 6,000 fully grown trees were cut down to clear the area
for this park, tying it up in litigation for several years. A second
park is the Bhimrao Ambedkar memorial in Lucknow, the state capital of
Uttar Pradesh, built at a cost of 7 billion rupees, or $140 million,
which has nine statues of Ms. Mayawati, and over 200 elephant statues.
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 7, 2012
This post incorrectly said previously that the chief minister of
Andhra Pradesh, N.T. Rama Rao, commissioned statues of important
people in Hyderabad in order to inspire passion for an independent
Telengana state. It also said incorrectly that these statues still
stand, some have been destroyed.
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