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Ms Mayawati's statue protection force

Soutik Biswas | 16:00 UK time, Friday, 29 January 2010

MayawatiFifty-three-year-old Ms Mayawati rules over a state where a quarter of India's poor live. With a population of more than 160 million - that's as many people as Brazil - Uttar Pradesh has some of the worst human development indicators. Government healthcare is a shambles, infant mortality is steep and millions of children are underfed. Endemic corruption means that potentially everything - from jobs to development projects - are up for sale. And the state's finances are precarious: the fiscal deficit leapt by nearly 50% in 2007-2008.

All this has not deterred Ms Mayawati, an icon for India's 160 million low caste Dalits, also known as 'untouchables', from splurging $1bn (£0.6bn) dollars on monuments of herself and other low-caste leaders. Courts have sought explanations about such profligate spending of tax-payers money, and opposition politicians have pilloried her.

Ms Mayawati is now calling for the creation of a separate police force to protect the statues she has built. This will bleed Uttar Pradesh further: she wants to spend more than $10m (£7.1m) to set up the force and another $3m (£1.6m) yearly to maintain it. This again, in a state, where law and order is poor, and even government officers have been murdered while carrying out their duties.

What is driving Ms Mayawati into what her critics describe as chronic megalomania when there are more pressing matters of the state to attend to?

For one, she feels her political opponents would destroy the memorials once she is out of power. One of them, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has even spoken about the need to "bulldoze" the monuments. So by creating a force by law, she is trying to make sure that the memorials are secure and not neglected even when she is out of power.

Many believe that Ms Mayawati's latest moves could be to do with her growing political insecurity. Securing one's legacy through building monuments will not work in modern-day India where aspirations are high. Dalits are no longer willing to wait endlessly for their lives to improve.

Ms Mayawati's fabled social engineering skills in building impregnable and impossible caste-based coalitions are fading as members of the upper castes and Muslims begin to move away from her party. If she leaves behind a lot of garish monuments and nothing much else, Uttar Pradesh will suffer more. But, more importantly, India's most deprived lower caste people will be the biggest losers. Will Ms Mayawati turn out to be the goddess that failed?


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  • 1. At 5:00pm on 29 Jan 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    How many times do people have to witness this to understand? Advocates for the poor win position, enrich themselves and claim they are being attacked because they represent the poor. The cycle conditions and desires of one are satisfied by the suffering of many. It is all a matter of degrees and when one is representing a better off region no one discusses their excesses. The question remains in India and most of Asia: How is the centuries old practice of corruption undone?, or is it just the human condition...those who benefit always have a differnt view from those who do not.

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  • 2. At 5:48pm on 29 Jan 2010, Essar wrote:

    What is happening in Uttar Pradesh is a symptom. To every symptom there is/are root cause/s. So, what is the root cause here?

    To this reader, the immediate cause is democracy gone amok. And why is it so?

    To this reader, it's lack of mature citizenship; mostly due to lack of education (of some kind).

    Perhaps there should be a citizenship test for anyone who would be allowed to vote. Chances are that a well-informed citizen will unlikely vote megalomaniacs like Ms. Mayawati. Otherwise the so-called democracy is a sham!

    Of course that sort of a thing will never happen. So this sort of a thing WILL happen!

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  • 3. At 6:39pm on 29 Jan 2010, Kumar wrote:

    First of all its a sad thing that Pak players werent picked for IPL3, its sad for the people of India, Pakistan and cricket lovers all over the world. But lets face it people there no conspiracy with the government or any people of India. As an average Indian cricket fan like myself most Indian people are of the same opinion and they are not trying to hurt Pakistani pride or insult their cricketers. Did everyone forget how the Eden Gardens erupted when Shoaib Akthar tore through the Delhi batting order including Sehwag, Gambhir and other top Indian cricketers?? all of a sudden its ludacris to accuse the people or government of India of trying to insult Pakistan. IPL is all about money and nothing but money. So theres no such thing as national pride in this situation. The players are upset that they didnt get to make some cash and turning the anger of common people, and that is insane..... All this talk about PCB asking Indian government to "probe" this matter is ridiculous. Its clear that theres been a mistake, the franchises are insecure about their 'assets' not being able to be utilised during IPL3. Can you blame them? partly yes, but ultimately its their money and they care about how they want to spend it or who they want to spend on. But hey if u r talkin about national pride then IPL is defenitly not the place. Just like they did last year the T20 world championship is the place to show their national pride.

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  • 4. At 04:53am on 30 Jan 2010, shikari shambu wrote:

    You get what you deserve. That is the beauty of democracy. So, people of Uttar Pradesh rejoice. And, when Mayawati becomes the PM of India rest of India can join the party. For now they will have to be content with other local entities like "Dr." J. Jayalalitha.

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  • 5. At 6:16pm on 30 Jan 2010, archerian wrote:

    In most developed countries others build a statue for you after extraordinary accomplishments, and that usually after you're long gone. In India, I guess you don't wait and honor yourself in advance.

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  • 6. At 8:01pm on 30 Jan 2010, uk2001 wrote:

    Oh dear! I can't ever imagine in my wildest dream, that the story of Ray's famous film "Hirak Rajar Desh a" (story of diamond kingdom) would become true in modern (?) India.
    I am still trying my best to assimilate your blog and a news story in BBC website on India's changed role in World Economic Forum at Davos. India is indeed an unparallel wonder of the world.

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  • 7. At 04:54am on 31 Jan 2010, David wrote:

    In USA she would be called bush league or stupifyingly nisguided or revealed as a fraud...

    trying to be nice:)

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  • 8. At 05:04am on 31 Jan 2010, David wrote:

    I recently met a second generation Indian-American (25 yrs old) and I said "you must be so proud of India's rise in the world" and he said

    "I didn't understand." Then he a way..(he IS young).. that India is a "very tight knit" people. This meaning they are not too trusting of other nations, until knowing them better.

    Maybe he felt cut off from his roots (there).

    But, it showed me people are the same everywhere.

    But--on topic--Women are so beautiful in India, maybe she feels her beauty should be immortalized:)

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  • 9. At 05:47am on 01 Feb 2010, Pradeep Sharma wrote:

    This is reallly getting stranger day by day. Why Mayawati and more particularly, her advisors, do not realise that people prefer progress, development and harmony. I am really surprised that after achieving a successful and stable political power, Mayawati does not want a second term. I am sure that if she continues with such things, it would be a great loss for the cause of the Dalit empowerment in North India.

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  • 10. At 11:15am on 01 Feb 2010, JackTheLad29 wrote:

    this woman is insane.
    great people don't go shouting and building statutes for themselves... wasting tax payers millions on self-obsession is shear insanity. this money could have been better spend on education.... but if people are educated then they will make rationale decision and see through what is good and bad for them and vote accordingly.. this is no good for these corrupt politicians...
    i agree with comments of Essar… education is the real answer to many problems which are rotting India… and one step further there should be some sort of eligibility criteria for anyone want to stand in elections…. they should have done some sort of social volunteering, this will make them aware of day2day life of a normal Indian and probably a better politician..

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  • 11. At 9:56pm on 01 Feb 2010, manjur wrote:

    About your story of Mayawati. Remember, 160 million people lives there. Apperrently, majority of them are not bothered by her spending on her own statue! She want's to be remembered through her own statue when she is out of power. She want's to be treated like a goddess and people are very much willing to treat her like that. So don't blame her, blame people if you have to. If any party would like to remove them, they would probably not get any support from even the higher court. Thinking why? Because, the court would want the same. There are probably very few human being thinks otherwise. So, congratulations voter for your wish.

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  • 12. At 06:21am on 02 Feb 2010, SULTAN PATEL wrote:

    So statue is the issue! Though I am an avid reader of Soutik Biswas's blogs as they are both informative and intelligent, I have certain comments on this count. Mayawati's statue bid is the culmination of casteism whose shadow Brahmins have cast for such a long period even after independence. It might spell the doom of Brahminical era that has worked like a termite to the national structure, this far. Indians revere the know Gandhi, Nehru, Indira and the list is endless! They are all there dotted on the premises of the government machineries even today. Mayawati's statue is the statue of the 'untouchables' essentially required as a 'ready-reckoner' for the state of UP that has produced all Prime Ministers and yet, the ghost of casteism looms large over there!

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  • 13. At 12:59pm on 02 Feb 2010, chandar10001 wrote:

    It is a sad state of affairs that a women who was vote into power to improve the lot of people should waste so much money on building monuments to herself. The money could have spent more productively to improve the living conditions of the people of India

    My reading of the caste card is that those who come to power on the back of this are the ones that do the least to improve the conditions for the people who voted them in. All the want to do is use and abuse the honour bestowed on them. The walk away with pocket full of money and the condiions of the poor get no better. The most important improvement in the health and well-being of the people of Bharat have been progress by people who have only the best interests of all the people in mind, not just one specific group. Mayawati will soon be out of people and she will do nothing else but complain about why the government is doing nothing to improve the lot of the lower caste. What does she have to show for her years in power

    What Bharat need are people who want to bring the standards of up for all people to an acceptable level, irrespective of their caste or religion. It will never happen. You only need to look as the IPL debacleeveryone was jumping on thr band wagon to blame other for why no pakistini players were selected. It all about votes.

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  • 14. At 1:20pm on 02 Feb 2010, straighttalker wrote:

    I think the successive governments should leave the monuments as they are. For people of UP and rest of the world it will be an ugly showcase of use and abuse of power by shameless politicians of India.
    Each such monument should also display its cost to the public funds and what that sort of money could have done for the community.

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  • 15. At 6:16pm on 02 Feb 2010, Mini wrote:

    Comment number 8 - "Women are so beautiful in India, maybe she feels her beauty should be immortalized:)" LOL

    We should leave the statues as is, to remind voters to be careful of whom they vote for. If she truly is an icon of the untouchables - how do the statues help feed the people from the poor socio-economic background, some of whom are from low caste.

    Caste card aside, wasting public money clearly rings high on budgetary decisions. It could well have been spent on cleaning the Ganges, providing electricity, greening the state - the list is long.

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  • 16. At 10:29pm on 02 Feb 2010, vivek malhotra wrote:

    Mr Biswas, I have read your commentary on Mayawati and her contribution to the class of untouchables with considerable interest. It is sad to see a country that is doing so well economically, culturally and spiritually being mutilated by a leader such as Mayawati. If what you say is correct then one has to worry about the leadership and the followers of this political figure. The underclass or the untouchables elected Mayawati to lead them out of their miserable condition and she leaves them with little that is good and a few statues. The fact that her mirky past has been pardoned by the law does not bode well for the future. Were the senior members of the indian government unaware of these facts, were they too involved in their own affairs to worry about one such as Mayawati? In the end it is the poor who suffer. Politicians are rarely good for the society and Mayawati is a living proof but it surprising that she is being allowed to continue with her selfishness even on her way out. Shouldn't someone at the very top question her actions. Considering how hard the Indians are working to be competitive with the rest of the world it is a shame to see the likes of Mayawati abusing the system for their selfish reasons. No one can do anything about her ego and the statues so let it go. The only slight hope is that she goes on hunger strike to ensure that her statues are safely guarded? That will be the ultimate test of her selfishness and a lesson for her followers and other such leaders in the making.

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  • 17. At 04:56am on 03 Feb 2010, RaniV wrote:

    How can central goverment allow the likes of Mayawati to spend public money as she wishes. Democracy in UP cannot only be left to the average Dalit in UP, who votes once every 5 years. It is a duty of the 'intelligensia' to state the obvious- ie this waste of money is not acceptable and to remedy the situation.Perhaps the people of UP are not informed that she is wasting these huge sums of money.
    How can Dalits ever hope to raise themselves when they choose this woman as their representative and icon. Ah yes, blame the caste system again.The most corrupt system in India is not the caste system but democracy,as it is practiced there, for and by the illiterate and fairly stupid masses.

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  • 18. At 5:35pm on 03 Feb 2010, injun_nc wrote:

    Thank you Mr. Biswas for putting this fiscal outrage in perspective for the world.

    While it is unconscionable to build monuments to yourself, the bigger tragedy remains the dashing of the hopes and aspirations of those this woman purports to represent. I know from first hand experience the joy of Dalits in U.P. when Mayawati came to power for the first time. After centuries of oppression, they saw a glimmer of hope in her rise. There were fatal stampedes in Lucknow to attend her public rallies. But alas! She quickly succumbed to the trappings of power and busied herself building monuments to herself and her mentor and stealing public funds.

    Under Mayawati's watch, the gap between her state and the rest of the rapidly industrializing country has widened beyond belief. It will perhaps take U.P. fifty years to catch up with the likes of Gujrat, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh (to mention just a few).

    History will record Mayawati to be yet another false prophet of the Dalits/Harijans, and a despicable scourge for the great state of U.P. I shudder to think what would have happened if this woman had become the Prime Minister of India. Heaven knows she came within a 'whisker' of that.

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  • 19. At 5:58pm on 03 Feb 2010, 69playmate wrote:

    I could always find in his writtings that,the strong leaders can give a fight to the plitical dynasty in india are being undereestimated by the writer.62years after freedom,under this dynasty, india still stand still in development. our india may be the biggest deeply devided country in rich and poor. in delhi, if you are not from delhi,you may doubt , you are an indian.and the poor are working for only one bottle of liquid to light their home and also their mind,and one kilo of wheat to fill their stomach.then why to blame others.this dynasty headed party was in power for decades.nobody troubled them with clear majority,exept few months or years.still the leaders outside this party are blamed for everything. ,why,please write about that,are you a sponsered writer or a spontaneous writer ???? sorry if I hurt you,but this is the fact.

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  • 20. At 05:36am on 04 Feb 2010, Robin Cyriac wrote:

    I wish if this blog was accessible to the untouchables (so called) crowd in UP. I dont believe the fact that our brothers & sisters in UP are different than what we are. Today I visit a Taluk Office, me being a graduate find it hard to tolerate the indiscipline and shoddy work at each desk there. Then, how do you expect a villager who has ever seen or heard what his rights are can get the best of the benifits. Having said this, is the present govt ready to sweepout the traditional way of approach to such plans like Mayawati's in UP. People can be the best to judge such kind of Untolerable acts & plans. Just wondering what can reach the truth to the weary ears.

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  • 21. At 3:12pm on 05 Feb 2010, Sunny wrote:

    India has made tremendous progress. First the VIP's needed protection and now their statues need the protection.

    Thanks god that these politicians have not adopted any animal mascots like the ancient gods had. Otherwise we had to provide protection to them too.

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  • 22. At 11:08pm on 07 Feb 2010, vignesh wrote:

    I do not know why Biswas is too critical of Ms. Mayavati's idea of protecting dalit leaders' statues. Congress governments have been creating and naming bridges, streets, towns, cities, and ports after its leaders. Who is protecting them? By naming government/public properties after the names of congress leaders, the names and statues are automatically protected at government expenses. Who is protecting Tilak Marg, Nehru Stadium, Indira Gandhi Airport, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, etc., Since Ms. Mayavati does not have that facility, she wants the government to protect them as in the case of status of congress leaders. Look at Tamil Nadu. who is protecting the statues of dravidian leaders? Don't complain about financial liabilities of all these pet projects. All north Indian states are agriculture-based. Hence there is poverty. Congress was in charge of UP for several years. Successive governments of BJP, SP, etc., did not develop the state. If you have the guts and power criticise the Congress governments for naming public properties. thanks.

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  • 23. At 6:06pm on 09 Feb 2010, BaronVonAwesome wrote:

    @Essar - I wholeheartedly agree that education will solve many of the social ills that India is combating.

    However, I vehemently disagree with you about implementing citizenship requirements in order to vote. A literacy requirement (which is what I am assuming you mean) would be tantamount to Jim Crow laws in the United States, when slaves were restricted in their voting rights because they didn't know any better. Likewise, your post appears to suggest that the uneducated masses shouldn't be allowed to vote because they don't know whats good for them.

    Where would you draw the line as far as who is eligible and who is not? How can voting rights for all mean that democracy is a sham? Isn't the right to vote a core concept of a democracy - very definition of which is rule by the people?

    I admit it would be wonderful if only the "well-informed" citizenry turned up at the polls, but isn't democracy meant to protect minority interests no matter how frivolous you may think they are? Your argument undercuts the very notions of representation for all.

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  • 24. At 6:57pm on 10 Feb 2010, ansar wrote:

    India is considered as democratic country. Its so-called democracy is clear from this incident. ShahRukh khan is a Muslim and he expressed his views on inclusion of Pakistani players in upcoming IPL which is commencing on March 2010. He talked about merit and peace but hardliner Hindus can never accept all this. They are actually against the Muslims and specially Pakistan. I am unable to understand why this terrorist organisation is not banned so far. Where is democracy........... Can anybody justify this behaviour of hardliners? Shah Rukh Khan is best actor of Indian film industry. We like to watch movie of all stars including the best BB. All our sympathies are with SRK and his new movie will beat all records despite threats of terrorists. World media should speak against these kind of hardliners who are not only responsible of tension between Hindus and Muslims of India but also are responsible for tension between Pakistan and India.
    Pakistan is world t20 champion and players should be part of IPL.

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  • 25. At 06:24am on 18 Apr 2010, acenavigator wrote:

    Mayawathi, Mamta Banerjee, Madam Jayalalithaa... Indian democracy is good at catapulting these type of whimsical women to power. The former and the latter are obsessed with statues. But my thinking on the subject is slightly different. In India politicians place a lot of importance on astrology. Maybe some astrologer suggested to Mayawathi that erecting her own statues, nook and corner, will help her endure ever as Chief Minister of this impoverished state or may even act as a catalyst to capture the PM's post which she openly covets.

    There is a reason for my line of thinking: Jayalalitha once removed the statue of Kannagi (the heroine in an ancient Tamil epic, Silapathigaram)from the beach at Chennai and dumped it in a corner at the Museum. This act, alleged to have been suggested by astrologers, was to ward off bad luck. When Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister, the first thing he did was to erect the statue in its original place- maybe to ensure Jayalalitha gets over dosage of bad luck.

    I am sure that Mayawathi erected her statues and that of other untouchable leaders, for her own selfish goals rather than for doing good to the untouchables in the society. Soutik, I am very sure of one thing in this country. Politicians from all walks of life, in this land, have only one goal: to garner votes, either by hook or by crook, or by pleading to powers they don't comprehend, be it God or devil. The primary objective is to gain wealth. If you think it is other than this than you are too naive.

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  • 26. At 06:36am on 18 Apr 2010, acenavigator wrote:

    #21, Sunny: Wish politicians have endangered animals as mascots. Special forces can be formed for protecting them. But the flip side of the coin is if the mascot's side becomes the opposition, there is more than a fair chance that the animal will be forcibly driven to extinction.

    For example: the tiger is rapidly becoming extinct because it is the mascot of the Tamil Tigers- the bete noir of the Congress party. It doesn't matter even if it is the national animal. Personal vendetta has wider repercussions-poor Panthera tigris.

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  • 27. At 08:21am on 19 Apr 2010, kp vidyashankar wrote:

    Just a matter of time. If the samajwadi or cong party comes to power, all these forces and the statues will disappear. Dust unto dust.....

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