“First they spent crores building these statues and now they are covering them”

In an old Disney animation film ‘Dumbo,' pink elephants were a consequence of alcohol-induced hallucination, but as one drives along the Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida that houses among others a statue of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, rows of pink elephant statues pop into sight from inside and around the periphery of the famous park.

These elephant statues are being draped in pink, because of a recent Election Commission (EC) directive, to conceal all statues of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and elephants (symbol of the Bahujan Samaj Party) before January 11. And pink is the colour of choice, not because it is believed to be Ms. Mayawati's favoured colour, but because it does not represent any party's official colour.

Curious onlookers

On Tuesday, as hundreds of men struggled with yards of pink plastic to drape all the elephants inside the park, and outside, vehicles crawled to a stop as curious onlookers watched in amusement. From pizza delivery boys to labourers, from random passers by to media crews, the audience watched as men raced against time to obey the diktat of the EC.

Guards posted at the gates of the multi-crore park ensured that no one apart from the authorised workforce was allowed to enter. Officials in charge of the work were reluctant to answer questions, but some of the labourers at the site shared helpful pointers. “Lots of men are working and by tomorrow [Wednesday] you will see every elephant statue, even the tiny ones on the fountains, covered,” said Navneet Kumar, a guard posted at one of the entrances of the park.

In the centre of the park where statues of Ms. Mayawati, her mentor Kanshi Ram and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar stand, work is under way to cover the Chief Minister's statue. Surrounded by scaffolding, wooden planks have been stacked to conceal Ms. Mayawati's statue. Once the work is over, the wooden planks will be covered with cloth.

There are over 50 elephants, big and small, and all of them will have to be covered in pink plastic, while Ms. Mayawati's statues will be covered with a more respectable option — cloth. The ‘mammoth' exercise of covering the statues has left a lot of people befuddled; while some think the park is being shut down, others think it is a waste of public money and effort, and to some others it is the work of “politicians and the media.”

“It is strange. First they spent crores building these statues and now they are covering them. The park has not even been opened to the public and it seems they are already closing it down,” said Vashisht, who works as a daily wage labourer near the park.

For Rakesh, who runs a tea stall outside the park, and can identify most of the statues inside, the exercise is a puzzle. “It is something that the BDO [block development officer] has said. And lots of TV vans have started coming here too. We will see what happens next,” he said, adding “the park is beautiful otherwise.”

For Ramnimundh, who works at a grocery store in Delhi's Inderpuri, the exercise is farcical. “I think the elephants are being covered because they have eaten too much,” he said as a group of onlookers burst out laughing at the pun.