Mayawati’s memorials a waste of money?
As chief minister of India’s most populous state and the country’s most influential dalit leader, Mayawati is used to getting her way. The memorials she has built around Uttar Pradesh are a testament to that.
The latest one is the “Rashtriya Dalit Smarak” (literally translated as National Dalit Memorial) in Noida, just across the river from the capital New Delhi.
Inaugurated last week, it is certainly an expensive project. Adorning the park are 24 pink sandstone elephants, the electoral symbol of Mayawati’s party, each reportedly costing 7 million rupees and about 12 life-size statues of B.R. Ambedkar (one of the authors of the Indian constitution and a hero among the dalits or “untouchable” caste), Mayawati herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram, each costing about 70 million of the taxpayer’s money, according to news reports.
Elsewhere in her state, a deadly mosquito-borne disease, Japanese Encephalitis, has taken the lives of more than 400 people this year, including more than 370 children, television reports say. A CNN-IBN report said only about 18 million rupees was granted to build a new ward for encephalitis patients in Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
This may be comparing apples with oranges but then we would be missing the point completely. Which is how an elected representative should spend the taxpayer’s money? While a lot may have been done for India’s lower castes, including by Mayawati herself, and a lot more needs to be done in terms of health, education and employment, one fails to see how erecting giant statues of oneself and the party symbol helps any cause.
That the memorial in Noida ran into environmental hurdles shows that if anything, such endeavours cause more damage than good. Although the chief minister later claimed most of the money came from party funds and not taxpayers, building statues of oneself just seems wrong, for lack of a better word, in a working democracy. Shouldn’t erecting expensive monuments be left to monarchs and dictators?
Uttar Pradesh remains one of the poorest states in the country, with high illiteracy and child mortality rates. The state “has struggled with one of the highest infant and child mortality rates in India and polio is still endemic here,” a UNICEF report said.
Given this situation, one wonders if 6.8 billion rupees, the reported cost of the latest memorial, could have been put to better use. Even if the state is more industrialised than before and on its way to development, there is still no excuse for building such edifices.