Monumental folly


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s statue building obsession and her penchant for self-glorification and aggrandisement have been known for some time. But figures revealed by her government in response to an application under the RTI Act have thrown light on what her statue building spree has cost the state exchequer. It appears that the UP government has spent Rs 3.49 crore on eight statues of Mayawati installed in five memorials coming up in Lucknow and another Rs 3.37 crore on seven statues of her mentor, Kanshiram. Besides, 60 statues of elephants -- the election symbol of the BSP -- are being erected in these memorials at a whopping Rs 52.20 crore. She is said to be unveiling around 40 statues in Lucknow this week, ahead of a Supreme Court ruling in a PIL case that has been filed against her government’s wastage of public funds on erection of statues. Mayawati has defended her government’s statue and memorial building on the grounds that these provide inspiration to the Dalit community. She has said in the past that the statues of Dalit leaders are symbols of Dalit empowerment and pride. Indeed, in a country where Dalits were excluded from the public space, the erection of statues and monuments in public places is significant. It symbolises their political assertion.

However, there is only so much empowerment that can come from installing statues of Dalit leaders. Real empowerment comes not from symbolic acts alone but from programmes of substance. The situation of Dalits in UP is far worse than the national average. It is in UP that Dalits are most vulnerable to violence. If Mayawati is genuinely keen to empower Dalits, she should focus on land reform and education. She should be allocating funds for education, nutrition and healthcare for Dalits. Instead of coming up with programmes that will bring substantial change, she is wasting funds on memorials and statues. This is a monumental folly.

There is no doubt that B R Ambedkar’s legacy must not be forgotten. But the way to keep him alive in public memory is not by erecting memorials but by building on his legacy through comprehensive programmes. Mayawati’s statue erecting spree has more to do with her own self-glorification. She has gone too far and must be stopped.

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