Why cover elephants? The voter is no fool to be deceived by symbols

Nobody is ascribing prejudicial intention to the Election Commission’s instruction to cover up all statues of Mayawati and her party’s symbol, the elephant, but the move is certainly ill-considered. EC’s primary intention was to offer a level playing field to all parties going to polls in Uttar Pradesh. However, it might end up loading the advantage in favour of Mayawati without intending to do so.

How? Well, Mayawati, so far defensive on the statues and the mindless expenditure incurred on these, might go to town claiming she is being victimised. She might mobilise her so far listless support base by cleverly portraying the EC’s move as an assault on Dalit pride. With not much to defend for her abysmal failure in the governance, economy and corruption front, she might peddle conspiracy theories to bolster her sagging prospects in the elections. The EC could have provided her an agenda for the polls by default.

While the motive behind the commission’s move is genuine, it smacks of lack of common sense. "We feel some party is getting political mileage by installing the statues at public places disturbing the level playing field..," said CEC, SY Qureshi, a few days ago, while asking for the images of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi be draped too. Many feel it is a case of commission going overboard with its enthusiasm.

Is the electorate so dumb as to get overawed by the statues of elephants and lose all sense of judgment on candidates? That is underestimating the intelligence of the voter. AFP

Not surprisingly, more than Mayawati, her political rivals are upset. They smell that she has been gifted an emotive issue prior to the polls. Indira, Rajiv and other leaders of the past are not such a huge problem since they have lost their emotive appeal and turned more or less neutral figures in electoral battles. But in case of the 'elephant’ and Mayawati, it is not the case. The supporters of BSP attach a great deal of importance to their leader and the symbol of the party. Any perceived assault on both could unite them behind both.

“It is impractical to implement…You have live elephants, how will you cover them? There are symbols like hand pumps. Are you going to cover all these?” CPI’s D Raja said. To extend the argument a bit, is it possible to cover all bridges named after Indira or Rajiv Gandhi? All polls symbols are linked to everyday life of people. Should all lanterns be kept out of public view just because it is perceived that use of lanterns during polls might help some party?

Also, like the BSP argues, elephant images are found in most of the temples and on currency notes. If symbols are so important then these would provide the party an undue advantage. Should the EC make efforts to cover those up too? It is neither practical nor advisable. It only creates avoidable complications.

“There is no point in covering the statues. The statues are concrete proof to the fact that public money has been wasted,” said senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav. He makes a good argument. The fact also is that a good amount of public money would be required to carry out the covering up mission. It would, like Mayawati’s statues, would serve no useful purpose.

Is the electorate so dumb as to get overawed by the statues of elephants and lose all sense of judgment on candidates?

That is underestimating the intelligence of the voter. The Indian voter, despite all his weaknesses, makes careful decisions. A statue here and there would not influence his voting choice. He realises where his money has been wasted and knows how to punish the guilty.

The Election Commission, being what it is, must trust him more.