Ever since 2008 when Mayawati, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, went on a spree of installing her own statues along with those of BSP and Dalit stalwarts as also elephants worth crores of rupees, a monumental controversy has dogged her. It became an easy tool for her rivals to encash political dividend as they played the statues-vs-development card. Unsurprisingly, the argument hit home. There was heartburn among some of her voters, too, since the promised programmes of providing jobs or the redistribution of surplus land to Dalits were pushed to the backburner. Raising the question of the misuse of public funds for her own glorification and propagating the party symbol (elephant), a petition was filed in the Supreme Court in 2009, seeking their removal and a CBI probe. And, despite the court admonishing her for wasting the taxpayers’ money, unfazed, Behenji went about trampling on all objections. Statues sprang up in parks and along flyways in Lucknow and Noida. When the debate gathered steam during poll time in 2012, the court ordered the Election Commission to ensure that the elephant statues were covered.
Now, the court has, in a strong message, observed that Mayawati should refund the money spent on the statues to the state exchequer, even as it posted the case for a final hearing on April 2. An elephantine amount of over Rs 2,000 crore of public money was spent on these sandstone memorials, ostensibly built to rival the monuments of ancient Rome. They are a sad testimony to a monumental ego.
As paytime for the jumbos stares at Maya, it is a wistful reminder of the tragic twist that the majestic elephant from Indian mythology has had to endure. In Buddhist iconography, her namesake Queen Maya’s dream foretelling the birth of Gautama Buddha featured the elephant prominently. And, in Hindu iconography, the pachyderm is the mode of transport for many gods. The animal does enjoy a sacred spot, which gets sullied if it is limited to a party’s poll symbol representing the leader’s vanity.