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Mayawati's fad for statues puts her in tight spot

By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
July 04, 2009 14:36 IST
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Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahjan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati's fad for building memorials and the obsession for installing her own statues has put her in a tight spot.

The latest public interest litigation moved before the apex court, seeks to not only restrain her from squandering away the tax-payer's money on projects allegedly aimed at "self-glorification," but also demands a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the "misuse" of public money on these. Simultaneously, it has sought "removal" of Mayawati's statues from public land.

It further urged the apex court to issue of a mandamus "directing the Bahujan Samaj Party and the chief minister to compensate the state exchequer for the misuse of public money by them."

Both the country's apex court as well as the Allahabad High Court have questioned her for allocating some Rs 3,000 crore out of the tax-payer's money towards construction of gigantic memorials devoted to her party icons and giant sized statues of herself along with those of her political mentor and BSP founder Kanshi Ram among others.

While Mayawati's actions over the past two years since she rode on to power for the fourth time have invited a series of PILs.

It was a 65-page PIL filed before the Supreme Court in June last that appears to be really giving jitters to the otherwise unstoppable CM who displays little respect for established democratic norms and practices.

"By putting so many statues of a particular leader of a particular party on public land, premises and parks devoids that place of being a public place and makes it a private property of the said political party which amounts to grabbing of public property by misusing the powers of the state," the petition points out.

Raising serious objections against installation of Mayawati's own statues and nearly 90 stone elephants -- the BSP's election symbol -- the petition cites a recent directive of the Election Commission which bars use of "images of political functionaries who have deep influence on the minds of electors as these would affect the level playing field," the petition points out that the CM's statue and the election symbol would required to be removed during the elections.

"Therefore putting up permanent statue of a party leader and that of the party's election symbol were clear violation of EC's order," it adds.

The development of a Rs. 300 crore memorial, that was yet to be christened, along a huge stretch of the Yamuna river banks in Noida has also come under question in the PIL.

As many as 11 statues of BSP icons including that of Mayawati and party founder Kanshi Ram are proposed to be installed in the gigantic 4 km long walled area.

Besides, as many as a dozen monuments are listed in the PIL which also points out the budgetary allocation for each of these.

As such, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal (Ambedkar Memorial) which was taken up as a Rs 150 crore Ambedkar Park in Mayawati's first stint as chief minister in 1996.

What was undertaken as a 23 acre park is now a sprawling 123 acre memorial being built at a total cost of more than Rs 750 crores.

The expansion came after demolition of a 42 acre Ambedkar sports complex built at a cost of Rs 100 crore during Mayawati's own previous tenure as also an academic centre for dalit research called 'Bhagidari Bhawan,' besides forceful acquisition of a 52 acre plot formally allotted for construction of Indira Gandhi Pratishthan.

At the very threshold of this memorial was Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal, developed on a 2 acre spread along the Gomati river embankment overlooking the 5 Star Taj Residency Hotel.

This has staues of both Mayawati and Kanshi Ram. And just across the road are statues of Babasaheb Ambedkar and his first wife Rama Bai.

Barely 200 metres away is a round about titled Samta-Mulak Chauraha with statues of two BSP icons installed. The outer wall of the round-about was so tall that it attracted a separate PIL for posing a serious traffic hazard. The PIL was pending before the Luckow bench of Allahabd High Court.

A memorial devoted to Kanshi Ram is coming up on a 42 acre plot of land snatched out of the local district jail whose inmates were using it for agricultural farming.

A whopping sum of Rs 370 crores had already been spent on the project that was yet to be completed.

However, statues of both Mayawati and Kanshi Ram were in place. Bang opposite the Kanshi Ram Memorial was a Rs. 90 crore Buddha sthal coming up on a 60.000 sq feet of land acquired after 153 residential flats belonging to the state irrigation department.

Besides a statue of Buddha, this monument has 100 stone columns, each adorned with an exquisitely carved elephant head.

However, what was most unique about the place that two four-headed statues of both Mayawati and Kanshi Ram were included prominently at the Buddha Sthal site for which an additional space of some 30 acres was being acquired expansion, thereby turning a vast stretch on both sides of what is called Lucknow's VIP road into Mayawati's private estate.

As if that was not enough of tribute to Lord Buddha, another Buddha Shanti Upvan was coming up on an 18 acre plot of land barely 2 km away at a cost of abut Rs 15 crores.

In the same vicinity, a 51 acre plot was taken up to create Rama Bai Ambedkar Rally ground with an allocation of Rs  65 crores in the first phase.

Almost next door was a 90 acre Kanshi Ram Sanskritik Sthal, carved out of a park dedicated by former prime miniter Atal Behari Vajpayee to Kargil martyrs.

A sum of Rs 90 crores was stated to have been already spent on the project. In addition, there is a Kanshi Ram Bahujan Nayak Park spread across a prime 48,000 sq feet plot, besides yet another Manyavar Kanshi Ranshi Ram Yaadgar Vishram Sthal Guest House on a sprawlling 1,00,000 sq feet plot in Lucknow's posh Mall Avenue on which more than Rs 20 crores have already been spent, while work was still going on.

The cost of the half a dozen bronze statues each of Mayawati and Kanshi Ram was estimated around Rs 6 crores, while that of the 60 life-sized stone elephants at the Ambedkar memorial was stated to be around Rs 52 crores.

Interestingly , the first time Mayawati's statue was installed alongwith that of Kanshi Ram at yet another memorial called 'Prerna Sthal,' she got a platform made to raise her's to the height of her mentor.

But when the turn came for the second statue, she was livid over the sculptor for failing to make her statue of the same height as Kanshi Ram's.

The sculptor pleaded that it was no fault of his as he had to take into account the actual difference in the height of the two leaders. Thereafter, sculptors have been careful to ensure that every Mayawati statue bears the same height as that of her mentor no matter what the disproportion.

Flaying the chief minister for the extravagance, the PIL not only accuses her of "grabbing public parks for self-glorification" that was "against the basic structure and spirit of the Indian Constitution," the PIL adds, "the chief minister's aim is to get popularity and immortality not by doing work for the millions of poor and downtrodden in the state but by building statues and memorials for herself and her mentor by using precious public funds which were much needed for emancipation of the poor and for the development of the state."

The petition goes further to highlight how "it was complete misuse of public money in a state that was part of the country's BIMARU states on account of it very low Human Development Index."

It seeks to point out that UP has the country's highest number of poor with "more than 5.8 crore people living below the poverty line, highest number of child labourers, less than 50 per cent electrified villages, lowest literacy rate of barely 57 per cent and highest maternal mortality as well as neo-natal mortality."

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow