I don't oppose Taj Mahal. It's a beautiful heritage. I oppose Mughals who built it & how they've been portrayed in history: Sangeet Som, BJP pic.twitter.com/nKGjgImpDc— ANI (@ANI) October 16, 2017
A hard-line conservative in India has dragged the world-renowned Taj Mahal into a dirty political row.
The pristine white mausoleum in Agra was made by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute of love for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The marble monument enshrines the tomb of his queen and attracts about 7-8 million visitors each year.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India” and is regarded as the best example of Muslim architecture in the sub continent.
However, the 17th century masterpiece failed to feature in Uttar Pradesh’s new tourism booklet “Uttar Pradesh Paryatan-Apaar Sambhavnayen,” which was released to mark six months of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of the state.
Apparently, because Taj Mahal was “built by traitors” and is a “blot on Indian culture,” at least according to Sangeet Som, a controversial lawmaker of the ruling party BJP.
“Many people were pained to see that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of [historical places in the UP tourism booklet],” Som said on Sunday. “Is this history that the person who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? Do you call it a history when the one who built the Taj targeted many Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Hindustan? If this is history, then it is very unfortunate and we will change this history, I guarantee you.”
It seems like Som needs to take some history lessons of his own. Shah Jahan never imprisoned his father. Instead, he himself was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb until his death.
In 2016, the Times of India reported Taj Mahal earned 750 million rupees (about $11.5 million) during the last three years in ticket sales and other paid services. Considering the fact the Taj Mahal is India’s most famous and sought-after tourist attraction, Som’s words might cost his country a lot of revenue.
It’s also quite hypocritical that Som does not have the same scruples when it comes to the British heritage sites in India. After all, Britain conquered and colonized India in the 1600s after defeating the Mughal emperors.
As the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pointed out, “In the British period, so many things were built. They are heritage. In our state, we have the Victoria Memorial. We are proud of that. Even Parliament was built in the British period. The offices of the ministers — North Block, South Block — were built by them.”
BJP’s senior official Nalin Kohli distanced himself from Som’s comments.
“That is his individual view. Taj Mahal is an important part of our history. It's part of incredible India. What happened in history cannot be erased but at least it can be well-written history.”
Other Indians have also defended the monument.
Ask #SangeetSom y only Taj Mahal? y nt othr Mughal made? y dey host flag at Lal Qila?Kill himself as he is breed of Muslim slave ancestor??????— Imam Nazre ???? (@iNazreImamAlam) October 16, 2017
Taj mahal is symbol of love.why some foolish ppl r relating it to any religion.its pride of india we are indians first then hindus or muslim— gurpyar dhaliwal (@gurpyar04) October 16, 2017
And yup what hv u done for India? Atleast the Taj Mahal is making us proud abroad and boosting Tourism. Keep Hindu-Muslim out of few things!— Bibhash Pathak (@Being_BIBHASH) October 16, 2017
How did India discriminate muslim? By having a muslim monument (Taj Mahal) as country iconic building? (1/2)— Thanesh Rao (@thaneshh25) October 16, 2017
Anyone who calls the Taj Mahal a "blot on Indian culture" has very clearly lost the plot.— Vikram Chandra (@vikramchandra) October 16, 2017
'Taj Mahal a blot, built by traitors,' says BJP lawmaker Sangeet Som.— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) October 16, 2017
He must be against marbles, having lost his.
But #up govt.Want petrol for muslim kings.Then why need petroleum products from muslim kings? If you don't want taj mahal as a tourist place— preethi (@preethi50632948) October 6, 2017
Hours later, Som issued a statement clarifying his bigoted comment.
“I don't oppose Taj Mahal. It's a beautiful heritage. I oppose the Mughals who built it and how they've been portrayed in history,” he said.
That’s a pure example of damage control. Also, it doubles down on his bigotry.
Som is a notorious Islamophobe who has made many inflammatory speeches that instigated communal riots between the Hindu Jats and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in 2013.
During the Uttar Pradesh election campaign, Som vowed cow slaughterers in the state would be booked as murderers.
Most recently in October, a video of Station House Officer Dharmendra Rathore touching Som’s feet in respect during a program in town sparked a debate over the conduct of the police officers and whether police stations were being run by MLAs (members of provincial assemblies) of the ruling party.
Banner/Thumbnail: Reuters, Cathal McNaughton