Mayavati is not my favorite politician but she's certainly a politician I like to follow for assorted reasons. She always seems to be in news for the wrong thing. Rather I only tend to read her stories when it's something 'interesting' aka controversial.
Most politicians are associated in the public eye with certain qualities. Rahul Gandhi with his flawless white kurtas, Amar Singh with his glitterati obsession and Lalluji with his inseparability from buffalos, ear hair and a distinctively entertaining diction. For some politicians, even upon taking hiatus, their associated qualities live on forever. For instance, I'll never forget how I could finish dinner and move onto cold coffee before Vajpayee could finish his sentence. I'll put Mayavati in that category for her love of statues, her own!
Every little girl dreams of being an iconic figure when she grows up. Some dream to be like Barbie, some like Britney Spears, some like Priyanka Gandhi. Any chance Mayavati thought to herself as a little girl "one day I want to be a statue" ?
I've had the pleasure of visiting Lucknow several times. She has far from a blink and miss presence in the city. In fact she has a blink-all-you-want-but-you-can-never-miss presence. The city is painted in her color. Literally. Parks named after her, billboards, statues, pamphlets, t-shirts with her picture and what not. She's the lifeline of Lucknow. And why not? She's done some phenomenal work there. Ask any Dalit and he'll claim he nearly worships her. But that's not what this post is about.
She's once again in the limelight since the Supreme Court has asked her government to explain its statue-building spree at the cost of the exchequer. Between 2007 and 2009, Mayavati has built 40 statues of Dalit icons, including that of Kanshi Ram (her god), herself (her goddess!!!) and 60 marble elephants (her party’s symbol). The Mayavati government never comes out with any statements on the cost of building statues and renovating parks meant to be memorials to Dalit icons. But documents have been found that prove that the statues of Mayavati and Kanshi Ram near the Ambedkar Park cost Rs 7 crores and the 60 marble elephants 52 crores. As if that wasn't enough, the UP government is now constructing a concrete complex along a 2-3 km stretch within the city which currently includes parks and a bird sanctuary. The noble cause of this construction is to erect more statues of Mayavati, Kanshi Ram and B.R. Ambedkar and the project cost is estimated to be a mere 187 crores. She is fighting back the opposition claims that central funds meant for welfare projects are being diverted to build statues.
To compensate for building concrete complexes on a green belt, she has proposed to move a jail from the city to the outskirts with a ton of facilities. Two birds, one stone. The area freed by the old jail will be turned into an ecological park and the new "swanky" jail (that even has video conferencing facility) will have a lot more facilities for 210 crores (yes she only rolls in crores), thereby enticing every small time criminal to do something bigger so he can be jailed! Btw, if every small time criminal goes to jail in Lucknow, wouldn’t it suddenly feel vacant? ;)
Now I know she's a sensible woman and a sharp politician. She must have been convinced that the hundreds of crores being spent on statues could NOT have been put to better use like helping to wipe out poverty, provide basic amenities to the less fortunate and take stronger education initiatives. I believe that. What about her image though? Couldn't that money have been at least spent to get some top notch designers to change her ghastly dresses, bata chappals and appalling gold earrings?
I can only hope that at least her statues have a designer outfit.