A major political war has erupted in India over the iconic Taj Mahal — one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site — after a prominent lawmaker of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called it a “blot on Indian culture”.
The 17th century mausoleum was built in 1653 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, a Muslim, for his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The iconic monument in Agra in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh attracts about 12,000 visitors a day.
Not only BJP lawmaker Sangeet Som has called Taj Mahal a “blot on Indian culture” but also described it as a monument built by “traitors”. His statement came days after the local BJP government in Uttar Pradesh left the monument out of its tourism booklet.
“Many people were worried that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places in the Uttar Pradesh tourism booklet. What history are we talking about? The man who built Taj Mahal imprisoned his father. He wanted to massacre Hindus,” Som said at a rally Sunday.
Som is one of a number of right-wing Hindu politicians accused of instigating communal riots that left over 60 dead and thousands displaced in the state’s Muzaffarnagar town in 2013.
His statement has, however, evoked strong criticism from the opposition parties.
In a series of tweets, Asaduddin Owaisi, the head of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, said Monday, “Traitors also built Red Fort will (Prime Minister) Modi stop hoisting Tiranga (tricolor) ? Can Modi & Yogi tell domestic & foreign tourist not to visit TAJ MAHAL?”
Uttar Pradesh’s main opposition Samajwadi Party has also come down heavily on the ruling BJP lawmaker for his controversial remarks. “This is unexpected,” a party spokesperson said.
Many Indians even took to social media to slam the BJP lawmaker.
“India is known in the tourist world for the Taj Mahal. One had better not bite the hand that feeds Mr Sangeet Som,” tweeted Anuja. “Sangeet Som’s attempt to politicise Taj Mahal is a shoddy attempt to further radicalise an already polarised political narrative,” said another.
Earlier this month, Taj Mahal’s absence in a new tourism brochure of Uttar Pradesh sparked outrage. Many accused the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath-led government of deliberately neglecting the monument built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan.
However, state Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi then clarified, “Taj Mahal is our cultural heritage and occupies a place among the world’s famous tourist places.”