An 'elephantine' crisis of over Rs 59 crore stares at Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati after the Supreme Court observed that she refund the money used in installation of statues of elephants, BSP founder Kanshiram and her own statues in parks built in various parts of Uttar Pradesh.
According to conservative estimates, the four-time chief minister spent Rs 3.49 crore on her own statues, Rs 3.77 crore on that of her mentor Kanshiram and Rs 52.02 crore on elephants, her party's election symbol.
The 'tentative view' aired by a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Deepak Gupta that "Madam Mayawati reimburse to the exchequer public money" she spent on these statues, is learnt to have sent the Dalit powerhouse in a tailspin and closeted with a battery of legal eagles, including party general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra.
That even ally Samajwadi Party (SP) has left her to fend for herself has only aggravated her problems. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who till not ago used every public outing to hit out at 'Bua ji' for plundering public money for her statues while being alive, now ducks questions. "Well, I have not read the whole observation made by the apex court. The BSP lawyers will tackle the matter," he said.
After assuming power in 2012, the SP government had ordered a probe into the memorials and the report revealed expenses of Rs 5,919 crore on parks and memorials built in Lucknow, Noida and Greater Noida. Of this, over Rs 400 crore was spent on purchase of stones alone. A CAG report, presented in the UP assembly in 2014 had mentioned a huge scam in the construction of the memorials built on 750 acres of land.
The matter, listed for final adjudication on April 2, worries the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister for two reasons -- one that the judicial reprimand could impact the party's prospects in the runup to the Lok Sabha polls and prompt the opposition, specially the BJP, to yet again call her 'Daulat and not Dalit-ke-beti'. Second, it could burn a massive hole in her purse.
There are 152 statues of elephants in the Ambedkar Park in Lucknow and 56 in a park in Noida. The cost of one statue of an elephant is estimated to be around Rs 50 lakh. Apart from using public money, Mayawati is also accused of wrongdoing in awarding contracts for the memorials.
The public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court demanding an end to the use of public money for political gains alleges a large chunk of budget of several state government departments, including culture, was routed for the purpose.
The petitioner, Advocate Ravikant, said while this was brazen use of public money to further political interests while in power, it also was in contravention of various rules of the Election Commission, which, in the runup to the 2012 assembly elections, got the elephant statues covered with polythene sheets. The Lokayukta probe ordered by Akhilesh Yadav has also inferred a scam of Rs 1,400 crore.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had only 10 days back raided several places in connection with the park scam and questioned engineers and officials involved in the process. The Dalit memorials, other than statues of elephants, Mayawati, her mentor Kanshiram have a place of pride for icon Bhimrao Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and even lord Buddha, with whom Dalits connect in a huge way.
Intimidatingly huge statues, an official who worked with her on many occasions told IANS, was deliberate and an integral component of "Mayawati's radical brand of Dalit assertion". That they were put up, built and installed at crowded roundabouts, important city points, was "her way of telling people -- both her own and opponents, that Dalit history has a place for her and that no one can dare change it in future", he said.
Around Rs 180 crore is spent annually to maintain the parks and guard the statues. A staff of 5,788 -- security guards, employees and gardeners -- take care of these memorials and statues round the year. Her years in power between 1995-2012, witnessed a radical additions to the environment of the state capital, specially in the posh Gomtinagar area and the VIP road. Many large-scale architectural memorials, with statues and narrative bronze friezes, both in Lucknow and Noida, neighbouring New Delhi, close aides say was her "assertion of authority".
The Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal, now Ambedkar Memorial and the Bahujan Samaj Prerna Kendra, which during her tenure were Mayawati's most politically meaningful architectural commissions and still draw hundreds of faithful daily along with the morning walkers, are now tightening the noose around her and the splurge of public money could cost her dear!
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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