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If Rahul Gandhi is to follow the family tradition and triumph in Indian politics he is going to need a lucky charm. Might that just be his nation’s symbol: the elephant? The heir to India’s most celebrated political dynasty has staked his reputation on elections in Uttar Pradesh, due in March. But to make progress in the country’s most populous state he must overcome a wily opponent: Mayawati, often known as the “Dalit queen”.
Ms Mayawati, the state’s chief minister, is renowned for her fiery speeches in favour of India’s lower castes (from whom she draws support) and her habit of erecting large statues in her honour. But this latter tendency has landed her in trouble – and perhaps boosted Mr Gandhi’s chances – after an unusual ruling by the election commission.
The regulators decreed not only that her statues must be covered in the campaign, for fear they influence voters, but all the state’s many elephant statues be shrouded too, on the grounds that her party use the animal as a logo.
The decision has left local authorities in a pickle. They have little time, having been set a deadline of 5pm today. More worryingly they seem to have little material, leading frantic local bureaucrats to ship in extra sheets to shroud around a dozen representations of Ms Mayawati and 100s more elephants.
Pictures of a handful of stone pachyderms draped in pink plastic emerged on Tuesday. Doubts must remain whether all will be hidden before the deadline. Mr Gandhi must be hoping they are. Even in a nation known for its corruption this may prove a cover-up too far.
Tata’s slum dogs
The Tata Group is attempting a transfer of power of its own, as chairman Ratan Tata prepares to hand over the reins. Little is known about his successor, Cyrus Mystry, leading to much speculation about what the move will mean for India’s most global company. Yet a crucial question has gone unanswered: what will become of the office dogs?
A noted dog lover, Mr Tata can sometimes be spotted strolling in a park near his seaside home, accompanied by his two Alsatians Tito and Tango. The animals bring out the elderly tycoon’s indulgent side, with one friend remembering his habit of feeding one of the dogs “a pack of Swiss chocolates everyday before heading to work”. But it is his willingness to bringdogs to work that most strikes visitors to the Tata’s Mumbai headquarters.
The reception features the usual array of gleaming X-ray machines and officious security guards. More unusually for a global multinational, however, it also sports some half a dozen stray dogs. The legend goes that more than a decade back Mr Tata took pity on the many animals sheltering outside his office on a wet night, and decreed that any clever enough to enter the building should be allowed to stay. Some did, and so were born a pack of real life slum dog millionaires.
No actual security work is expected, of course, which is just as well, given most spend their days snoozing on the floor. Food is even provided, by chefs at Tata’s canteen. Indeed the dogs had not a care in the world, until Mr Mystry arrived on the scene. Given all the mystery surrounding him – profiles note helpfully that he “loves cars” and “likes golf” – his silence on canine matters should come as no surprise. Tata’s slum dogs can only hope that their new master will not hound them out.
Sachin’s Swami Army
Another group hoping for good fortune: India’s cricket fans. Two thumping defeats against Australia have left this cricket-mad nation distraught, as their tour down under threatens to turn into a rout. Worse still, its favourite player, Sachin Tendulkar, has again failed to score his 100th international century – a milestone unparalleled in the history of the game, and one the “little master” is, right at the end, finding it hard to pass. Thankfully the players can count on the support of a hardy band of supporters: the Swami Army. The group has been in good voice despite the setbacks, even concocting a song in praise of Mr Tendulkar’s talents. Set to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, the lyrics go: “Sachin Tendulkar, he is our god, and he bats and he bats and he’ll score another century.” All of India hopes they will be proved right.