With Uttar Pradesh govt leaving out Taj Mahal from list of key attractions, iconic Mughal monument's future looks bleak
After reports surfaced that the UP government had omitted the Taj Mahal from its list of key attractions, the future seems bleak for the iconic monument.
Rabindranath Tagore described it as 'a teardrop on the cheek of eternity', Rudyard Kipling as 'the embodiment of all things pure, all things holy, and all things unhappy', and every middle-school General Knowledge teacher in India as 'one of the seven wonders of the world'.
None of that seems enough for the Uttar Pradesh government however, as media outlets reported on Monday that it had omitted the iconic Mughal monument from its list of key attractions.
The Times of India describes the booklet titled 'Uttar Pradesh Paryatan - Apaar Sambhavanaayein' (UP Tourism - Unlimited Possibilities) as a 32-page glossy booklet with the Ganga Aarti of Varanasi on its cover. It has ostensibly been printed to promote tourist spots in Uttar Pradesh, but misses out on the most famous one. It does however find place for Gorakhnath temple, where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is the presiding priest.
The booklet was released by Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna to mark six months of the Yogi Adityanath government, according to a report in NDTV.
But the government seemed to backtrack: Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh insisted that there was 'some miscommunication which has undermined the monument' while Joshi insisted that the Taj Mahal was a part of the state's cultural heritage and a key priority for the state government, according to the report.
Yogi government inching away from Taj Mahal
In June, Yogi Adityanath — while speaking about souvenirs given to foreign dignitaries — had said that Taj Mahal and other minarets do not reflect Indian culture, according to a report in The Telegraph.
The report also quoted Patna University history teacher Daisy Narayan as saying that "the period from 1206 to 1760 is considered as the 'Islamic era' of Indian history by some people, especially of a particular political stripe. It is very shocking that the Taj Mahal, which is our national heritage monument, is being claimed as not as part of our culture."
The monument also failed to find mention in the government's first budget in the special section 'Hamari Sanskritik Virasat' (Our Cultural Heritage) incorporated in the finance minister’s 63-page budget speech. The exclusion had led to criticism of the government as academics and historians asked for promotion of the state's composite multi-faith culture.
Athar Siddiqui of the Centre For Objective Research And Development had said that "The identification of heritage with Hindu identity is in complete contradiction with UP’s 'Sanjhi Virasat' (Shared Heritage)."
In December 2016, six Agra lawyers had asked the Civil Court to declare the Taj Mahal a Hindu temple. The petition had also asked for permission for Hindus to perform puja in the monument. The issue was resolved only after Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told Parliament: "The government has not found any evidence which can suggest that Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple of Shiva."
The issue garnered international attention as well. Dawn, in an editorial, stated that the Taj Mahal had become a part of the campaign to erase India's Islamic heritage. It cited historian KN Panikkar who in his lecture 'Outsider As Enemy' said that the BJP is "saffronising research institutions". He said that the ruling party was revising school textbooks "to introduce a communal view of the past, highlighting the achievements and contribution of the Hindus and undermining or misrepresenting the role of others."
Taj Mahal, ever popular with tourists
The Taj Mahal is still one of India's top tourist draws. In 2016, it was visited by 6.2 million visitors.
It is also a hit with celebrities with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Hillary Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, Tom Cruise and Kevin Durant visiting in just the last few years.
In 2015, the government said 23 percent of tourists visit the monument.
According to this Firstpost article, for years, the Taj Mahal has been the biggest revenue-spinner for Indian tourism. And yet, the Adityanath government doesn't want to include it in its tourism booklet. There couldn't have been a more nauseating example of the beast of bigotry eating its own tail, the article opines.
The tomb needs the government's help if it is to retain its pristine beauty. Heavy traffic, wood-burning crematoriums, smoke from neighbouring factories and Agra’s growing population have resulted in the monument turning yellow.
While some measures like the replacement of all wood-burning crematoriums near the Taj Mahal with cleaner electric ones and the banning of cow dung burning have been taken, there is still a desperate need for the government to step up.
It's track record is hardly encouraging: It has already faced the Supreme Court's wrath for "messing up" the beauty of the Mughal architecture.
As these new developments show a seeming lack of interest on behalf of the Uttar Pradesh government in promoting the Taj Mahal, the fate of one of India's most iconic structures seems bleak.
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