Constructing monuments — in commemoration of significant events — and statues of great leaders is a worldwide phenomenon. But, when it comes to putting up statues of political leaders, India takes the cake. Statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Subash Chandra Bose, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, among others, dot every city, town and village in the country. Topping the list would obviously be the statues of Mahatma Gandhi with at least one in each of the 6.5 lakh villages in the country, not to speak of dozens in towns and cities. These are, of course, normal-sized statues. Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati changed the entire narrative on statues when she was in power in Uttar Pradesh between 2007 and 2012. She went on a construction spree of Dalit memorials with statues of party founder Kanshi Ram, herself and ‘elephant,’ her party’s electoral symbol. The BSP leader is reported to have splurged Rs 2,600 crore of taxpayers’ money on these statues, and the matter was dragged to court. Mayawati informed the Supreme Court, which sought reimbursement of public money used on these statues, that they were built in public interest and as a symbol of Dalit women’s struggle. The statues, according to her affidavit filed in the SC, represent the will of the people “as expressed by the decision of the elected representatives.” So, all it needs is a few dozen sycophant MLAs to readily give the nod for a massive spending spree on behalf of the 20 crore-plus population of Uttar Pradesh for lifeless statues that benefit none!
To be fair to Mayawati, she is not alone in such mega wasteful expenditures. The BJP is miles ahead of the BSP with its two gigantic projects – Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s 597-ft statue facing the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat and the Shivaji Maharaj statue off the Mumbai coast. While the Statue of Unity, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, set back the Gujarat government by a whopping Rs 2,989 crore, the upcoming Shivaji statue will cost the Maharashtra government Rs 3,643.78 crore over a period of five years. Interestingly, the Gujarat government sent project proposals to the BJP-led NDA government for inclusion under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, and the total cost of the projects was less than half of the cost of the Statue of Unity. One estimate has it that the statue cost would have covered costs to irrigate 40,192 hectares of land, besides taking up repair, renovation and restoration of 162 minor irrigation schemes and construction of 425 small check-dams. The combined money splurged by these three State governments on the construction of their respective statues amounts to a mind-boggling over Rs 9,232 crore! And the parties in question spent the money without batting an eyelid but are not willing to come to the rescue of farmers or the unemployed in the country.