(Updates with change to poll dates in seventh paragraph.)
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The chief minister of India’s most populous state has been ordered to cover statues of herself and her party’s elephant symbol as they may influence voters ahead of provincial elections that begin next month.
Mayawati, who uses one name and draws support for her Bahujan Samaj Party mainly from those on the lower rungs of the country’s traditional caste system, has until Jan. 11 to wrap the statues, the Election Commission said in a statement. Taxpayers -- whose money was used to produce the sculptures -- will have to foot the bill for the mass veiling, it said.
“It is an insult to the intelligence of the Indian voter that they are going to be influenced by a few statues,” said A.K. Verma, a political analyst at Christ Church College in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
In October, Mayawati attended the official opening of a park on the outskirts of New Delhi that honors icons of the lower castes, known as Dalits. The park cost $139 million to build, the Times of India reported, and contains 24 pink sandstone elephants and 12 giant statues of B.R. Ambedkar, who led the drafting of India’s constitution and is a Dalit hero, and Mayawati, the newspaper said.
Mayawati’s bid for re-election faces a challenge from the Congress party whose campaign is being led by Rahul Gandhi, who may be India’s next prime minister if Congress were to win national polls due by 2014. During her five-year term, Mayawati has been criticized by rivals for raising costly statues in a state that is home to the highest number of people living in poverty in India.
Uttar Pradesh, which government figures show has a per capita income of $436, half the national average, is home to about 60 million people living on less than $2 a day, the World Bank estimates. The state also lags behind in social indicators such as literacy and infant mortality, the bank says.
With a population of 200 million people, almost equal to Brazil’s, Uttar Pradesh is India’s most important electoral prize electing about a seventh of the 545 lawmakers in India’s lower house of parliament. Voting for its regional assembly will start later than the earlier planned date of Feb. 4 to avoid a clash with the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, the election commission said today. A new date will be announced soon. Ballots will be counted in early March.
--Editors: Mark Williams, Abhay Singh
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