The sight of a Chief Minister, armed with broom and sweepers’ gear, participating in a cleanliness drive at the Taj Mahal – the world heritage site made controversial by his own government and party MLAs – is not something we see every day. Amid the ongoing row over the historic site, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath on Thursday launched a cleanliness drive at the Western Gate of Taj Mahal. In doing so, Yogi became probably the first CM of the state to take part in such an exercise at the Taj. Moreover, he sent a clear message that Uttar Pradesh government would not ignore the Taj – which is considered as one of the seven wonders of the world.
Incidentally, the controversy over the Taj is Yogi’s and his government’s own doing. As early as in 2014, Yogi had triggered a controversy by claiming that the Taj was a part of the ancient “Tejo Mahalaya” temple. Attacking Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan during the 2014 General Elections campaign, Yogi had said if the former can claim the Taj was a property of Waqf Board then Hindus would also not be wrong if they say the monument was a part of Shiva Temple.
There is no historical evidence, as of now, to prove that the Taj was a part of an ancient Shiva Temple. The word Tejo Mahalaya apparently originated in the 1960s and 1970s when this term was used in scrips of Marathi magazines by a writer named PM Oak. The writer had claimed the ruins of a temple could be found if the Taj was excavated. However, his outlandish claim was never proved.
After becoming the CM, Yogi once again made headlines in June this year with his remarks on the Taj while attending a rally in Bihar.
— CM Office, GoUP (@CMOfficeUP) October 26, 2017
“Foreign dignitaries visiting the country used to be gifted replicas of the Taj Mahal and other minarets which did not reflect Indian culture… This is the first time this has happened that when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes abroad, or any foreign president visits India, he is gifted the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayan”, Yogi was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
The Taj Majal made headlines once again early this month after its name was not mentioned in a UP tourism brochure. This was followed up by a controversial remark by BJP MLA Sangeet Som who, while speaking in Meerut, said that the Taj was built by an emperor who had imprisoned his father and targeted Hindus. He also termed Mughal emperors like Akbar, Babur and Aurangzeb as “traitors” and said their names should be removed from history books.
“Many people were pained to see that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of places (tourist destinations). What type of history?…Is this history that the person who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? Do you call it history when the one who built the Taj targeted many Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Hindustan?, Som was quoted as saying by PTI.
Som was obviously lying as Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had built the Taj in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal and he was imprisoned until the end of his life by his son Aurangzeb.
The bad press generated by the controversy over the Taj was not just hurting India’s tourism, as the Taj attracts lakhs of foreign visitors every year, but may have also hit the BJP in upcoming elections. It is probably for this reason and reportedly under pressure from the Centre, Yogi made a course correction a few days ago, saying the Taj was built by the blood and sweat of Indians.
By visiting the Taj and participating in the cleanliness drive, Yogi has certainly sought to end the controversy. But a question remains. Will leaders like Sangeet Som stop making controversial statements on the Taj?