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.