These giant stone elephants sitting on their pedestals in a huge park outside Delhi are a symbol of India’s political development. Built here and in Uttar Pradesh’s capital city of Lucknow, along with other massive stone and bronze monuments, stupas, and domes at a reported cost of Rs4,500 crore ($1bn), they are designed to glorify Kumari Mayawati, the state’s controversial chief minister and be a symbol of empowerment for her Dalit low caste. India’s Election Commission ordered last week that all the elephants, and statues of Mayawati, should be covered for the duration of the state’s current assembly elections – polling takes place next month. The chief election commissioner, S.Y.Qureshi, said this was done to stop Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gaining “political mileage” from the displays – just, he said, as pictures of political leaders are removed from government offices during polls.
One can see Qureshi’s logic because Mayawati is the chief minister candidate in the elections and the elephant is her party’s symbol. (The fact that this maverick and autocratic politician, who brooks no opposition, obeyed him is a testament to the uniquely independent authority that the Election Commission wields in this unruly country).
But was Qureshi’s instruction sensible, and was it counter-productive? A retired top bureaucrat has told me that it was excessive and unnecessary because the statues were permanent fixtures, not photographs or banners hung on walls or highways. The expensive drama involved in covering them also drew attention to Mayawati, and may have led to sympathy from her supporters – she told them the authorities were discriminating against Dalits.
Full Article: Elephant symbols of empowerment are too powerful for India’s Election Commission | John Elliott | Independent The Foreign Desk – International dispatches from Independent correspondents – Blogs.