India

India’s champion of the poor sparks storm over grandiose handbag statues

The chief minister of India's most populous state is liked by some for being comparatively young, female, and from the country's lowest caste. But recently, she's become better known for using public money to build statues of herself. Holding a handbag. Read more...

Advertising

Photo posted on Flickr by Dipankar Mukherjee

The chief minister of India's most populous state is liked for being comparatively young, female, and from the country's lowest caste. But recently, she's become better known for using public money to build statues of herself. Holding a handbag.

Mayawati Kumari is heralded as a voice of India's lower classes. The chief minister for the northern state Uttar Pradesh, she's from the "untouchable" caste, called Dalit. To her supporters, she's known as "behenji" - or "respected sister".

Recently, however, in her fourth term as minister, the 54-year-old has become involved in a massive and extravagant construction project - that of statues. Huge complexes of marble, sandstone and granite edifices extol untouchable leaders, ringed with massive elephants (the symbol of her party). Importantly, they also include herself.

The entire project is said to have cost some 20 billion rupees - 320 million euros in public funds - causing the country's Supreme Court to order a halt to further construction last July, while it conducts an investigation.

Image posted on Flickr by Nikhil Pant

"The handbag is mandatory!"

Colin Fernandes is a Delhi-based writer and author of Viva Santiago.

I've seen a few of the statues. The handbag is mandatory! I think it is her way of connecting with the middle class, it identifies her as a successful woman from the working class and all that.

But the caste issue, I think, is what made her build the statues in the first place. An Ambedkar complex of sorts. Dr. Ambedkar was one of the most important Indian icons, born Dalit, but going on to earn degrees at LSE and Columbia and eventually becoming the chief architect of the Indian constitution. He helped introduce quotas or positive discrimination for India's historically oppressed lower castes.

The first thing she did as chief minister was renovate the Ambedkar memorials. Then she had a statue of herself put next to one of his...

Further construction has been stopped... The rest of the statues are still around, but have been covered with tarp by orders of the Supreme Court.

Funnily enough, in the end, there's been something good to come out of all this. Infrastructure has always been a problem in India, and the roads in hill areas in Uttar Pradesh were hell until recently. Suddenly, now the roads have become a lot better... I can only presume, that due to all the bad publicity, Mayawati has been forced to use state funds for some actual good, and make up for money and time wasted on those elephants!"

Image posted by Sruthi Radhakrishnan on her blog

Images posted on Flickr by Saikiran GVR