Talking statues at the Ambedkar Park in Uttar Pradesh capital

Jumbo display:A view of the Ambedkar Memorial Park in Lucknow.Rajeev Bhatt

Jumbo display:A view of the Ambedkar Memorial Park in Lucknow.Rajeev Bhatt  

Opinion on Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati’s expenditure on statues may be divided, but everybody likes a good garden

Vijay Pratap feels it’s unfair of the Supreme Court to observe that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati might have to deposit public money spent by her in erecting parks and memorials in parts of Uttar Pradesh during her tenure.

Standing in the sprawling Ambedkar Memorial Park, built on the banks of river Gomti in Lucknow by the Mayawati government, Mr. Pratap who works in the National Rural Livelihood Mission in Bahraich district, claims the issue is being raised now, months before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with an eye to create “a negative thinking” among voters towards the BSP supremo.

Mr. Pratap believes Ms. Mayawati is being targeted for her caste.

“Why are these memorials a wastage? According to the caste structure, all castes have pushed up their icons. But when it comes to Dalit icons, they are pained and only see corruption. Nobody has a problem with the statue of Sardar Patel,” said Mr. Pratap.

Had Ambedkar been a ‘savarna’ (‘general category’ in reservations), the park would have been glorified, adds Mr. Pratap.

Like hundreds of people do daily, he has come to relax at the Ambedkar Park, known for its magnificent stone structures and domes, a massive ‘elephant gallery’ and statues of Dalit icons. With the massive memorials and statues built by BSP chief Mayawati during her tenure once again the focus of public attention, The Hindu spoke to a range of people at the sprawling park on what they thought about the controversy.

Beauty and architecture

Across sections, the park was praised for its beauty and architecture, especially with Dalits linking it to their pride and to movement for social upliftment.

Opinions on the justification of the expenditure mirrored political divisions in the State, where Ms. Mayawati’s constructions have been used as a tool by political opponents to target her. Sensing the damage done to her image by the propaganda, and to appease non-Dalit voters, in the 2017 Assembly polls, Ms. Mayawati even declared that if she came to power, she would not build any more statues, parks or memorials, but focus on development and on ridding the State of goondaism, mafia and communal elements.

Jyoti Saini, a teacher, praises the park as a breath of fresh air. However, she is also critical of Ms. Mayawati, accusing her of only focussing on Dalits, while ignoring upper castes and Other Backward Classes (OBC), be it in jobs or other positions while in power. “It’s beyond doubt — she only works for her caste,” said Ms. Saini.

Ahmed Khan, Masters student in Urdu at the Lucknow University, is also a regular visitor to the park; it helps him de-stress, he says. ‘Lucknow ki shaan ’ (‘pride of Lucknow’), he calls it. “It is a historic place, not a wastage of money. By that parameter then, the money spent on the Patel statue should also be handed back,” said Mr. Khan.

His friend, Afzal Raza, a madrasa teacher in Sitapur, also chipped in: “Those who raise questions on such parks only have a negative thinking.”

Staff at the park say around 1,000-1,500 persons visit it daily, with figures rising to more than 2,000 on weekends. Among them are tourists like Amarjeet Singh, a civil engineer who moved here from Mumbai. Mr. Singh praises the park for its aesthetics but wants it to be de-linked from politics.

“This is not wastage of money, provided it is not linked to politics. Such things are needed to bind society together. But if we only connect it to a particular caste, things get political,” said Mr. Singh.

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