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15 Aug, 2009 07:04

Indian politician craves deity status

In one of the poorest regions of India, famous for building monuments and statues dedicated to gods, a local politician is being criticized for using public money to erect statues of herself and party officials.

The northern province of Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state. The heart of the state’s capital, Lucknow, is now being re-engineered on a big scale to change its leader's public image.

Since coming to power two years ago, Indian politician and the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, has built 53 tributes to herself and her allies, some with as much prominence as religious figures like Buddha.

“Our country has seen many saints and great leaders in its history, and the memorials, statues and parks being built in their name will continue to inspire and guide society in the future,” declared Mayawati.

But India's Supreme Court and election commission are now asking questions.

Mayawati dismisses any criticism as political conspiracy. Yet in the last month alone, she's unveiled 15 new statues. She is an icon for India's 160 million low-caste Hindus, and claims she is merely showcasing role models for the downtrodden.

But it's her spending that is attracting the sharpest criticism. Uttar Pradesh is one of India's most-deprived states, with a high crime rate and poor health services.

Ordinary Indians think that Mayawati had better think of the public and the poor in Uttar Pradesh. Whereas making statues is fine, Mayawati is somehow failing to improve people’s lives.

“More than $800 million has already been spent on the total project,” claims journalist Jagdish Narayan Rai. “The statues of elephants cost over $100,000 each – even a live elephant costs less than that.”

Immortalizing leaders in statues is not unusual for India's political parties. But one member of the Congress Party, which has ruled India for most of the last 60 years, says there is no comparison.

“Even if you count all the statues of Mahatma Gandhi in the entire country, there can't be more than two dozen. But they were national leaders; the entire country loved them. The statues she is making are of people no one has heard of,” complains Congress Party spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh.

And Mayawati's team is clearly sensitive over the projects, with high walls barring the public and media from seeing what's going on.

Politicians in India have created personality cults before, but Mayawati is going one step further. The scale of this project is enormous, yet security did not let RT team to shoot the premises because of the controversy surrounding the project over the use of public funds to satisfy one politician’s ego.