To be sure, it is not the first time the grand mausoleum built in the early 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, was the target of ire of fundamentalists.
The latest controversies centring on the Taj Mahal were thoroughly unnecessary. To be sure, it is not the first time the grand mausoleum built in the early 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, was the target of ire of fundamentalists. But this time was ugly because it was a legislator of the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, the Taj’s home-state, and a state government department that stoked the controversy—the former by commission, and the latter, by an ill-advised omission. The state tourism department left the Taj—that figures high on the itinerary of foreigners visiting India—out of a booklet on places of tourist interests in the state. When the snub fanned a storm on the internet—where most activism happens this days—the department tried to explain it away by saying that the booklet was meant to feature only those spots around which new government schemes are planned, but few bought it.
Later, BJP MLA Sangeet Som called the monument a “blot on Indian culture” and said it was built by “traitors”. Against such a backdrop, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath—who once had less than charitable views about the Taj—coming to the monument’s defence reflects appreciable political deftness.
Distancing the government from Som’s views, Adityanath put the controversy to rest by saying that what was important to remember about the Taj was that it was built with the “sweat and blood of Indian labourers”. This reflects mature political thought, and foregrounds historical astuteness. The fact is the Taj is one of the many symbols of a significant chapter in India’s history, notwithstanding the hotly contested merits/demerits of the said chapter.
Devaluing or celebrating a period in history may tie in well with political ends, but the fact is this also brings down the level of political discourse, all the while eroding from the citizenry’s sense of history. After Som’s comments, many quickly pointed out that the Red Fort was a also a Mughal creation—Som had targeted the last Sultanate dynasty—and yet successive prime ministers have delivered their Independence Day address from its ramparts.
If the Mughals must be labelled “invaders” and “traitors”, it would be jarring to overlook the British. It is a slippery slope from there on—if the Taj is a “blot” on Indian culture, what makes the Rashtrapati Bhawan or the Sansad Bhawan, undisputed landmarks of the Raj, any different?