An exercise to cover up many massive statues of Mayawati, and of the elephants that are her political symbol, at Ambedkar parks in Lucknow and in Noida, near Delhi, will begin today.
For those counting, there are nine Mayawati statues and 25 elephants that will need to be covered at the Lucknow park and two Mayawatis and 52 elephants at the Noida park that the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister inaugurated with much fanfare only a few months ago. The Election Commission has given the UP administration time till Wednesday, 5 pm, to complete the task.
The elephant motifs and her four-faced statues in the company of Dalit greats are Ms Mayawati's attempt at immortality. For the time being, the Election Commission saw them as hampering a "free and equal" electoral process. Uttar Pradesh votes to elect a new government in seven phases of polling all through next month.
It's no easy task covering those almost 100 massive statues with cloth sheets. The task poses both physical and political challenges in BSP-ruled UP. So on Sunday, when government officials began the exercise, there was much drama. First, the officials ran out of sheets to cover the giant statues. They also ran out of ideas on how to effectively go about the task. Those ruminations were quickly pushed to the back by the realisation that an official order to cover the statues was yet to be received from the Election Commission. So the sheets that had been draped came off.
The Lucknow District Magistrate finally received the order on Sunday evening and it will be implemented from today. Noida officials said they would measure the statues today to get the right size of cloth to cover them.
Political reactions to the Election Commission's decision have ranged from "happy" to "irrational" and even "utter nonsense." TS Krishnamurthy, former Chief Election Commissioner, explains why what seems like a "strange decision" is necessary. "It needs to be done keeping in mind fair elections...This decision may look strange and some people may even call it idiotic...unfortunately, this is a consequence of a distorted democracy that we have," he said of the present EC's order.
Mr Krishnamurthy points to a precedence. "In the 2004 Parliament election, we had a similar situation with hoardings on the national highway for projects of the National Highway Authority of India. We had to cover the pictures of the former prime minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) in order to provide a level-playing field for all political parties.
The Congress is smug. In UP's Devariya, senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari says, "We never asked for the elephant to be covered...but we welcome the decision of the Election Commission. Covering the hand symbol (the Congress' election symbol) is impossible because that too will need a hand."
The Election Commission's directive virtually endorses the Congress' stand that the statues were Mayawati's campaign material. Campaigning in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi drove home the association between the elephant and what he calls Mayawati's misrule when he said, "The miraculous elephant which Mayawati has created eats out of poor people's pockets."
But in a very high-stakes political battle, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party is already turning adversity into advantage, signalling to its core Dalit votebank that the party's opponents are targeting them and not Mayawati or her monuments.
"Will the Election Commission also ban the cycle during the elections in the state?" asked BSP leader SC Mishra. The bicycle is the election symbol of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, the third big player in the UP elections.
Not that all rival political parties find merit in the Election Commission's decision that Mayawati's statues should be covered.
JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav, who is also the convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which includes the BJP, the fourth political angle in the UP elections, said, "We don't know on whose advice this decision has been taken. Those are statues and especially the elephants; you go anywhere in India, you go to Khajuraho, Konark, elephants will look like elephants...These are nonsensical talks even if Congress says so or Mayawati says so. This is utter nonsense."
Left leader D Raja said, "This is I think a bit of an irrational order. The Election Commission should have applied its mind properly before issuing such an order because this will lead to many other questions."
And from faraway Mumbai comes a wry tweet that could be the last word on the cover-up. "A covered Mayawati statue will get more attention than an uncovered one. People will say, 'Oh that is Mayawati's statue covered,'" tweeted actor Anupam Kher. The BSP will be counting on that happening.