India Mayawati statues covered up before deadline

Workers cover statues of Mayawati in Lucknow on 10 January 2012 Work to cover the statues is continuing at a feverish pace

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All statues and party symbols of Uttar Pradesh Chef Minister Mayawati in India have now been covered up, officials have told the BBC.

State electoral officer Umesh Sinha said the statues were covered up in time for a deadline set on Wednesday.

Election chiefs ordered the huge statues be covered up until the end of state assembly polls in March.

Truckloads of plastic sheets were used to cover the monuments to avoid any risk of them unduly influencing voters.

"I have been told verbally that the order has been complied with but am waiting for it in writing," Mr Sinha said.

He said that he was satisfied that the order has been fulfilled.

Ms Mayawati is famous for building statues of herself and other icons from her low-caste Dalit community.

In two parks in the state capital, Lucknow, and Noida, a suburb of Delhi, there are nearly a dozen statues of Ms Mayawati and more than 75 stone elephants - the symbol of her Bahujan Samaj Party.

The government was ordered by the Election Commission to ensure that the statues were covered by Wednesday evening.

Under election rules, portraits and calendars bearing photographs of the chief minister must be removed from government offices ahead of elections.

Hiding the statues

Labourers worked at a feverish pace to cover all the statues, the BBC's Ram Dutt Tripathi in Lucknow says.

In the city, workers climbed up bamboo ladders to cover 15ft (4.6 metres) tall elephants with yellow plastic sheets.

Scaffolding has been erected around the statues and thin wooden panels then fixed around them to hide them from the public eye.

Statue of elephant covered up in Ambedkar Park in Noida (10/01/12)

Our correspondent visited one of the parks in Lucknow late on Tuesday night where he saw passers-by stopping to see the covered statues.

Work on covering the statues began on Monday after the Election Commission order on Sunday.

Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said the covering up should be completed "at the earliest".

The Bahujan Samaj Party termed the order as "one-sided and against natural justice".

Several other opposition parties also criticised it, saying the order was "impractical".

But Mr Quraishi said that such criticism was "ill-informed".

'Shameful'

Huge numbers of statues commissioned by Ms Mayawati can be seen in Lucknow and other towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh.

Critics accuse her of self-glorification and wasting public money. She accuses them of conspiring against her.

In September, leaked US diplomatic cables said Ms Mayawati had sent an empty private jet to fetch a pair of sandals from Mumbai - a charge she strongly denied.

Uttar Pradesh is one of India's most deprived states with a high crime rate and poor health indicators.

The chief minister's spending on statues and memorials has been described as "shameful" by critics.

Statues of political leaders are generally put up posthumously, but Ms Mayawati says that belief is outdated.

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