While Ram is still fighting for a place in Ayodhya (Aram Janam Bhumi), UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has decided to give him a larger view. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced in October, his Government’s plan to build a 100m tall statue of Lord Ram on the Saryu river’s bank in Ayodhya.
He also showed his government’s eagerness to review the Maitreya Buddha project, which has been pending for 15 years. The project involves 500m statue of Buddha, world’s tallest.
Now Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav in planning to built Hanuman statue in Saifai in his native village in Etawah district and now planning to install a statue of Lord Krishna and other principle characters of Mahabharat.
Using statue as a symbol of political power is not new in India’s most politically sensitive states although color and theme keep changing. Party parliamentarian Vinay Katiyar, an accused in the involving the 1992 demolition of Babri Mosque, said the Ram statue was among the priorities of BJP government.
Katiyar also said that when a majority government is in power it has to support aspirations of the voters.
It seems like in UP, they are playing statue game to show their power. After Mayawati and Akhilesh, CM Adityanath has also joined statue game.
The Uttar Pradesh Shia Central Waqf Board has added spice to the politics over statues. Its chairman, Waseem Rizvi, announced the board said he would gift ten silver arrows for Ram’s quiver as a mark of respect to the god.
The BJP-led government’s Buddha statue plan is viewed as a ploy to counter Bahujan Samaj Party chief and Dalit leader Mayawati’s Buddhism card.
As a large number of Dalits are Buddhists, the statue is likely to lead to another political joust between the BJP and the BSP for backward-class votes, said RK Gautam, a political observer.
Statues gained prominence when Mayawati was in power. During her four terms as chief minister, party leaders installed statues of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar made of sandstone, concrete, and marble in Dalit-dominated villages and localities.
Before the BSP’s statue ball, the Congress installed statues and busts of former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in several cities. The party hasn’t made much progress since because it has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh for 28 years.
“Political parties, be they the BJP, the BSP, the Congress or the SP, are trying to win the communities with their icons,” he said.
Such is the sensitivity of communities to their icons that tension gripped the Dalit-dominated Abad Ghar village in Shamli district of western UP in July after miscreants vandalized a statue of Ambedkar.
Dalits and BSP leaders protested and threatened to launch a statewide stir if the administration failed to take strict action against the culprits.
Statues were also at the center stage of a fight between the Election Commission and the BSP ahead of the 2012 assembly elections in the state, when the former issued orders to veil the statues of Mayawati and Dalit icons ahead of the polls. The BSP objected and tried to make it a political issue during the election campaign but the ploy did not work. The party lost power to the Samajwadi Party.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections, the BJP was able to make inroads in the BSP-SP vote bank by mobilizing the support of Dalit communities, particularly Pasis and other backward communities, including the Mauryas, Kushwahas, Rajbhars, and Nishads.
In February 2016, BJP national president Amit Shah unveiled a statue of Raja Suheldev, who is revered by Pasis and Rajbhars, in Bahraich.
For his part, chief minister Adityanath announced earlier this year that Suheldev’s life would be included in school textbooks so that students could draw inspiration from him.
He also announced that a sun temple would be constructed at Balaar in Bahraich.
This is not the BJP’s first tryst with statues. The BJP government in UP from 1997 to 2002 installed statues of Uda Devi, Jhalkari Bai and Raja Bijli Pasi as well as party icons Deendayal Upadhyaya and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Religious icons are in vogue now.