Monumental Obsession

Mayawati is busy erecting her statues while her state is sliding down in terms of Human Development Index

ajay

Ajay Singh | January 28, 2010



In course of an argument, UP chief minister Mayawati's counsel in the supreme court contested that the erection of her statues in Lucknow and Noida was part of Mayawati's political project to empower marginalised social sections through symbols. This argument implied that despite her four stints as the chief minister of the country's most populous state, Mayawati still considered symbolism as a potent political weapon. Apparently, Mayawati's understanding of politics is not guided by conventional political wisdom. That she has the ability to gauge people's mood better than others is reflected in a recent survey conducted by the Allahabad-based Pant Institute of Social Science.

The survey found out that those visiting the lush green parks where statues of  Gautam Buddha are flanked by Mayawati and her mentor Kanshi Ram found nothing abominable in the display of extravaganza. In fact, a majority of visitors found those parks nice places of excursion in otherwise crowded urban areas. The most significant reaction came from dalits who justified Mayawati and said there was nothing wrong in re-discovering the history and giving dalit icons their rightful place. This is yet another index of Mayawati's wider acceptance among dalits, the core constituency of the BSP.

In fact, Mayawati’s penchant for discovering symbols is not new. In her first term as the chief minister, she went ahead with the construction of Parivartan Chowk, a symbol of change, in Lucknow in 1995. Though supported by the BJP, Mayawati’s project of building a statue of Periyar was seen as a shrewd strategy to counter the Hindutva euphoria. The BJP pulled the plug but Mayawati emerged a strong symbol of dalit consolidation. In subsequent elections, she stood ground and forced the BJP to help her form the government.

In her second and third tenure as the chief minister of UP also, Mayawati delved into history to re-discover icons like Jhalkari Bai and Bijli Passi to bolster the dalits’ pride.  For a large of section of marginalised societies, these new narratives were distinctly different from the stereotyped historiography and restored dalits’ role in freedom struggle. But what had actually lent political muscle to Mayawati was her welfare programmes for dalits. In all districts, government lands were distributed to them. In effect, the symbolism was adequately supplemented by an action programme for the welfare of dalits. And that was the strength of the BSP.

In 2007 Mayawati won UP by breaking her identity mould. She reached out to the Brahmins and talked about emancipation of people cutting across the party-line from the thrall of Mafiosi patronised by the Mulayam regime. Her clarion call against “Goonda raj” found resonance with people. She was voted to power with an absolute majority. The crying need for the country’s largest state was good governance. Given the immense economic potential of the state, her political projects could have gone much beyond symbolism. But that was not to be. Hence the diversion of a substantial chunk of the budget to build monuments and her statues is justified in the name of symbolic empowerment even in the highest court of the land.

Contrast this with a series of expose in the media on the large amount of money splurged on Mayawati's ambitious projects amid deteriorating standard of infrastructure and civic amenities and Uttar Pradesh appears to be a place of paradoxes. There are enough straws in the winds to suggest that the state is poorly governed. The state has been sliding down in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), much behind neigbouring Bihar which has registered over 11% growth rate. Those in the top bureaucracy admit that there is immense pressure to conceal crime and other statistical facts which show the state in poor light. The average tenure of a bureaucrat does not go beyond three months, making the bureaucracy quite unstable. Similarly, the government's policy on sugar led to closure of most of the mills, which resulted in serious financial crisis for cane growers of west Uttar Pradesh. There can be a long chargesheet against the Mayawati government. But all these facts appear irrelevant to her politics so long as the symbolic empowerment pays dividend.

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