India’s ‘Dalit Queen’ can carry on building statues of herself

Shaikh Azizur Rahman

New Delhi // Statues dedicated to Mayawati, India’s “Dalit Queen”, will continue to be erected after the Supreme Court rejected a case asking for construction to stop.

In the case of one park in Noida, near Delhi, the Supreme Court refused to stop the erection of the statues.

But in Lucknow ecological park, Mayawati cannot erect any statue, a state court has ordered. The statues involved are those of Mayawati, her former mentor Kanshi Ram and B R Ambedkar, Dalit author of India’s constitution.

The country’s highest court made the ruling last week in a case that demanded the Uttar Pradesh state government also stop building statues of other Dalit leaders and 60 marble elephants – the symbol of her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The case filed last month sought to restrain the Dalit dominated government from installing the statues and party symbols in public places, and claimed it “misused” public money, urgently needed for public services in one of India’s poorest states.

Mayawati, who goes by one name only, was given four weeks to respond to the allegations but before she was able to reply, the lawyers who lodged the original case filed an interim application to the Supreme Court seeking to stop the state government from building statues in a park in Noida, near New Delhi.

After hearing the application, the Supreme Court said it could not intervene in the case unless it was presented “evidence of misuse” of public money on the part of the government of Uttar Pradesh state.

“If the cabinet [of Uttar Pradesh state government] has approved a project, we think the court should not interfere,” Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan said.

Some of her rival political party leaders have attacked her, claiming the statues dedicated to her are “not morally acceptable” and some others threatened they would tear them down.

However, many of her supporters, who had helped Mayawati become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for the first time without any alliance support, said they were feeling disenchanted with her and felt cheated because she had “not lived up to her promises” on development work and would not vote for her next time.

After her party formed the government in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, Mayawati announced she planned to erect the “social change memorials” across the state.

Her supporters, party workers and many loyal senior state government officials, fear her statue spree could damage the image of the party and destroy her political fortunes.

“She has taken the Dalits for a ride. She doesn’t care for their welfare, she just exploits them emotionally. Her monuments are obscene, given the poverty of this state,” S R Darapuri, a former senior police officer and Dalit activist, wrote in a column in Mail Today.

Rizwan Qaiser, a modern history professor at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, said Mayawati’s “megalomaniac attitude” could jeopardise her political career.

“She calls the statues ‘beacons of inspiration for all Dalits and downtrodden people’, a theory not even a Dalit will buy,” said Prof Qaiser.

“People are developing a sense of frustration where one-third of the state’s population lives below poverty line. For her fascination of erecting these statues she might need to pay back dearly in next state elections [in 2012].”

A group of four lawyers were behind the lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court.

“In such a state where the human development index is so low each rupee should go for development,” said Ravi Kant, one of the lawyers.

The lawsuit said that over a two-year period Mayawati and the Uttar Pradesh government had allocated 20 billion rupees (Dh1.5bn) for projects which had “no connection with development of the state”.

It also said 12.58bn rupees of public money had already been used “to falsely glorify the chief minister”.

While this lawsuit was unsuccessful, Mayawati lost another case. A lawsuit filed recently in Allahabad High Court, Uttar Pradesh’s highest court, said the state government was planning to install “gigantic” statues of Mayawati, Kanshi Ram and Ambedkar in a proposed ecological park in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

The court ruled the statues could not be built, with the park itself becoming the memorial.

Mayawati last week said the statues, including hers, were “symbols of emancipation of Dalits” and her political rivals were attacking her memorials because they were afraid of her popularity.

“My critics cannot digest the revolutionary social changes [being brought about in Uttar Pradesh]. By attacking the statues of the Dalit leaders and gurus the opposition leaders have exposed their ‘casteist’ characters,” said Mayawati.

Before recent general elections, Mayawati said she wanted to create history one day by becoming India’s first Dalit prime minister. However, her party did not perform as well as expected and it only won 21 seats, all from Uttar Pradesh.