Nothing about Mayawati was one dimensional. Her rise, her rule or her departure from power – every bit of it is laced with controversy. But, that’s true for all or most political leaders in UP. When Mayawati won the election, people hoped that she can’t be much worse than the anarchy loving Yadav clan. When she was ruling, nothing could be worse. Once the Yadavs came back to power in Lucknow, people fondly remembered her citing corruption and waywardness is better than rampant hooliganism.
Lesson learnt: people in UP see saw between the rock and the hard place and it is not going to change anytime soon. So, we will leave the hopeless subject of politics in Uttar Pradesh aside and talk only about the monolithic pile of rock that Mayawati left hanging around UP’s neck – Ambedkar Memorial or Ambedkar Park or Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal as its whole name is.
When this park was being built, Mayawati was already at the peak of her arrogance and public opinion at its nadir. Built at a cost of seven billion rupees or seven hundred crores, it was seen as the whim of a single demented woman, the biggest wastage of state money in modern India. The memorial was feared to change the landscape and temperature of the city, the caste divide and the extent of political megalomania for ever.
Generally, we preferred not to talk about the whole issue, it was singularly depressing. But then, one day, someone suggested that we should research the history of all major monuments. Most of them were built by heftily taxing the public, during times of flood and famine, and by rulers who were pronounced mad and/or tyrannical by the subjects. In fact, the world’s biggest monuments are personal structures with no social intention – graves. Suddenly, Mayawati seemed heroic and historic.
This change in outlook had got me interested in seeing the Ambedkar Park. Few days back, I was in Lucknow and took some time out to see how bad the damage was. I arrived at the park at eight in the morning , having learnt from experience that parks should be seen early in the morning. No luck, this time. The park opens only at eleven. Standing on the elevated path next to the park, I could see the scale and the stones. I had to come back and see it in detail.
I came back in the afternoon. Bought a ticket for ten rupees and entered the gates. The moment you step inside, the sheer size of the park hits you like a stone. It’s not beautiful – engineered or natural, it’s not scenic, and it’s not awe-inspiring. It’s just massive. It does not make you philosophical, it does not make you wonder, it does not inspire you to do great things. It just makes you think how much of it is worth seeing and how much you can skip without losing anything important. Simply put, never before has such a massive structure failed so miserably at evoking any emotion, at all.
Anyway, I walked on and around the Ambedkar Memorial, it will be wrong to call it a park. It was a mild winter afternoon, but the thought of walking all those miles scared me. There wasn’t a tree in sight, no greenery, no respite from the cold brutal stone. There were signs forbidding plucking leaves and a hefty fine if found doing so, but to do that you will have to find a tree first.
The first ten minutes, I walked in all directions. The pillars, the rows of massive elephants, the main structure and the parliament like place beyond. There were pillars and statues and pillars and more statues. I overheard a woman complaining that she was charged ten rupees to see a pile of rocks. Can’t blame her.
After seeing the statues around the park, I went into the main hall – giant door guarding giant statues of Dr. Ambedkar, some other leaders and the madam herself. Much like the pyramid building emperors, Mayawati is the modern era ruler who has built a grave for herself and posterity.
As per the expense, bigger monuments are being planned today. The Sardar Patel statue that Narendra Modi plans on building will cost 2500 crores, a little more than the 700 crores that Mayawati spent on Ambedkar rock pile. However, what’s regrettable is not the amount of money spent but the loss of an opportunity to create something truly iconic that could go down in the history books.
Mayawati must have aimed at building something grand. She only achieved massive. Scale, while being an important attribute, is nothing if grandeur and artistry are missing. And, that is the problem with Ambedkar Park.