Ritesh K Srivastava
BSP chief Mayawati is for sure a queen of all seasons. She knows how to grab eyeballs even if an entire brigade of rival politicians and detractors is all set to pull her down for her antics. Maya’s growing dominance in Indian politics and her towering presence as the country’s biggest ‘Dalit icon’ has put her rivals in a state of panic.
It appears that she is undeterred by her party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha polls and allegations of corruption leveled against her government by her political opponents, as she recently unveiled parks and 15 statues in Lucknow, which included that of BSP founder late Kanshi Ram and her own.
BSP supremo’s decision to unveil her own statue and build memorials during her life has got intellectuals debating over the ethics and morality behind such actions. Only God knows if she is planning to build a temple for herself and other Dalit leaders in the later stages of her life.
In our country, we have had a tradition of dedicating a statue or a memorial to a leader after his death.
BSP’s arch-rival SP, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, other parties including Congress and BJP have slammed Mayawati’s decision citing it as “the misuse of public money” meant for development projects and welfare schemes.
However, the shrewd politician has justified her action on the grounds that she was only fulfilling the last will of her mentor and BSP founder, late Kanshi Ram, who wanted the statue of his successor to be installed beside his.
It also appears that Mayawati was aware of the fact that her decision to build memorials, including her own, would draw flak from several quarters and would be challenged in the court of law.
So, to avoid any legal hassles, her government got Rs 194 crore earmarked for the construction of statues of great leaders, allocated in the 2008- 2009 budget. The money was granted to UP Culture Department in the 2009-2010 budget and the entire amount was spent.
According to figures obtained from the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA), the UP government has spent close to Rs 6.68 crores for erecting the statues of Mayawati and Kanshi Ram.
The cost of erecting the marble elephants at Ambedkar Memorial has been estimated at Rs 52 crore. Besides, the government also allocated an amount of Rs 90 crore meant for the maintenance and upkeep of Kanshi Ram Park.
If Samajwadi Party is to be believed, the Mayawati government has so far spent a whopping Rs 10,000 crores on Amebedkar Parks, statues and memorials. SP chief Mulayam Singh went a step further by announcing that he will bulldoze all memorials erected by the Mayawati government if his party comes to power in UP.
And if there is even an iota of truth behind this, then a large amount of money required to boost the economic status of the state and for uplifting of the weaker sections has been clearly wasted.
Amidst the political hobnobbing over the issue, the apex court had issued a show cause notice to the UP government during a hearing on a PIL, challenging its decision to build memorials and installing statues.
The apex court has sought a reply from the UP government in four weeks over the issue.
However, Mayawati has launched a blistering attack on the Congress party saying, "The money spent on statues of Dalit leaders in Lucknow is much less than what has been spent on Rajghat alone.”
She has accused her rivals of deliberately targeting a Dalit leader and trying to malign her image by initiating a vicious campaign.
According to political observers, the BSP supremo is trying to further strengthen her party’s support base and establish herself as a ‘Dalit Messiah’.
The idea behind constructing parks, museums, and memorials dedicated to Dalits is to challenge the Congress’ monopoly to build statues, mausoleums, parks and memorials dedicated to their great leaders.
It is not surprising that a large number of statues, memorials and parks dedicated to the nation actually belong to Congressmen and various trusts supported by the Grand Old Party are entrusted with the responsibility for their upkeep.
For the BSP, it is perhaps their idea of rewarding its leaders who spearheaded the campaign for Dalits and upheld their dignity in the caste-ridden Indian society.
Although, Congress party has clearly distanced itself from the ongoing spat between SP and the BSP, it is aware of the Elephant’s growing might.
The Congress leadership, alleging misappropriation of funds, has demanded a probe into the matter. Congress has also questioned BSP’s ‘false glorification’ of her party symbol ‘elephant’ and linking it with the Dalit sentiment.
Come what may, there is no denying the fact that thousands of crores of rupees spent by the Mayawati government could have been utilized in eradicating poverty, strengthening infrastructure, empowering women and weaker sections, opening schools, colleges, government hospitals and providing basic amenities in the remote areas.
At a time when about 5.81 crore people live below the poverty line in UP, the Mayawati government is busy commissioning statues of its leaders instead of taking measures aimed at improving the economic status of all those who voted her to power.
As the biggest ‘Dalit leader’ of our time and as the head of a powerful political party, no one can stop Mayawati from realizing her dreams. But it’s high time for our politicians to realize that they must lead by putting a shining example of their own and take humanitarian actions if they wish to be etched in people’s memory forever.