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India: The Curious Case of Draping Statues to Ensure Fair Elections

The Indian State of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is going to the polls in February 2012, to elect the new State Assembly. Campaigning by the various political parties has reached feverish pitch. However, what has grabbed the nation's attention is the recent order by the Election Commission that all statues in UP of Ms. Mayawati (the current Chief Minister and the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party) and her party symbol – the elephant – be draped by Wednesday 11 January, 2012.

The Chief Election Commissioner, SY Qureishi, stated that the order was in keeping with the Model Code of Conduct, to ensure a level playing field and prevent any political party from getting undue political mileage by being able to influence the voters.

Mayawati at the newsstand. Image from Flikr via Counterclockwise. CC BY

During her tenure as Chief Minister, Mayawati has repeatedly faced controversy over her penchant for spending huge amounts of public money in erecting large statues of herself, other Dalit icons, as well as those of her party symbol the elephant, all over the State – especially in and around Lucknow – the State Capital, as well as Greater Noida.

The task set up by the Election Commission was therefore pretty much a jumbo one. The order and the resulting efforts (video uploaded to YouTube by ) drew a lot of reactions, not only from political parties but from netizens as well:

Twitter was immediately abuzz with reactions. Some wondered if the cover-up would serve any practical purpose or whether the Election Commission went slightly overboard in their enthusiasm. Others wondered if covered statues would actually work in Mayawati's favour.

@SwatySMalik: Although I Do not Like #Mayawati.. I think EC went overboard in ordering to Cover her statues etc! #unfair

@calamur: every time you think that the system cannot get more stupid, they prove you wrong cover up women, cover up elephants, cover up crimes…

@AbhinandanSekhr: this #mayawati statues covering will wrk 2 her advantage 4 sure Even those who hadn't will notice her “voice being muzzled”

@AnupamPkher: A Covered Mayawati statue will get more attention than an uncovered one. People will say,” Oh that is Mayawati's statue covered.”

@tavleen_singh: Very hard to understand how veiling statues of Mayawati and her elephants will help make elections free and fair in Uttar Pradesh!

@ankit_me: Thanks to EC, Mayawati got her publicity and campaign budget reduced.

@riya0001: Illvika Saikia: I think #EC is helping Mayawati by covering Elephant and her statue, as it will bring more attention and curosity among voters, to kno her.

Some Twitter users felt that the statues should remain uncovered and in public view, if only to remind the voters of the huge amount of public money that was used to fund them:

@acorn: Nitin Pai: Mayawati's deeds shouldn't be hidden from voters. More seriously, the EC's decision to cover up her statues is unwarranted & wrong.

@sanjukaul: Sanjay Kaul: @pragmatic_d These statues had become symbol of Mayawati's power. Covering lets voters know abt misuse of public money. Let voters decide

There were a lot of humorous responses as well, with netizens joking whether the rule should extend to Mayawati herself and live elephants, as well as objects which are symbols of other political parties and can ‘influence the voter’ through association:

@rangats: I wonder what would have EC done if Mayawati had – Rising Sun – as symbol ? Order ppl not to come out of house in morning ?

@amit_lakhotia: EC wants to cover elephants statue for UP elections. Are they going to cover lotus temple in Delhi elections?

@pragmatic_d: Fine, you can veil Ms. Mayawati's statues. But what about Ms. Mayawati herself. Will she be also forced to wear a veil till polling day?

@rajeshkalra: Wonder if all traffic cops are campaigning for Congress. They raise their hand and show me their palm to stop me! Must complain to EC

@sameermufti: Mayawati planning to move to France. No one can veil her statues there!!!

In fact, a blogger Being Cynical even wrote an open letter to the Election Commission, pointing out that the order appeared to be rather impractical and questioning the motives behind such an action:

Dear Mr. S.Y. Quraishi and Team, Let me first thank you for providing the much needed fun quotient on a dull weekend like yesterday.

[...]

Elephants? Why cover elephants? Elephants don’t wear clothes? Do they? Just because elephants are the poll symbols for BSP, you can’t order them to be covered. Then why spare others? Let’s order to cover all the lotuses (if they are that rampantly available), ask people to lock their cycles in their garage and order people to wear gloves as we can’t chop them off as they ultimately would need their fingers to cast the vote.

As the deadline ended this evening, it appears that the Election Commission's directive has been complied with – apparently at a cost of over 1 crore (10 million) rupees.

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