LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Workmen using truckloads of cloth raced Monday to comply with election officials who ordered a flamboyant Indian state leader to cover up a dozen large statues she erected of herself.
The Election Commission said the statues of Mayawati, who is a hero to India's lowest castes, were built using public money and their display violates rules for next month's election in her Uttar Pradesh state.
"This is done to provide a level playing field to all the political parties," said Umesh Sinha, the state's chief electoral officer.
Opposition parties had complained that the statues would influence voters. The images must be covered by Wednesday, Sinha said. The Election Commission also said that nearly 200 statues of elephants, her party's symbol, must be covered.
Mayawati, a former school teacher and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party who uses only one name, has risen to the upper rungs of India's political landscape by tapping into the enormous voting base of dalits, who are at the bottom of Hinduism's caste structure.
Nine towering statues of the state leader — seven made of bronze and two of marble — and 125 statues of elephants adorn four lavish public parks in the state capital, Lucknow. Three other large statues of Mayawati and 62 more statues of elephants stand in a university and a memorial park in Noida, a suburb of New Delhi.
"It is an elephantine problem to drape these statues," Ramesh Shukla, a government officer overseeing the operations, said as workers with green and white cloth labored in parks in Lucknow. Some of the statues are almost 15 feet (4.6 meters) tall.
Mayawati's political opponents and critics accuse her of collecting diamond jewelry and homes and using millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to build the statues in honor of her party and herself.
Her party was quick to criticize the Election Commission's orders, asking if it would also remove lotus flowers from ponds or bar people from riding bicycles because they are symbols of rival parties.