Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has never minced any words about his dislike for minarets and domes, even the magnificent tourist attraction Taj Mahal. He doesn’t consider it to be part of India’s or UP’s culture and heritage. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Taj Mahal didn’t find a mention in the state’s annual budget for 2017-2018 in the special section named ‘Hamari Sanskritik Virasat’ (Our Cultural Heritage).

Now, the money for the conservation of the 17th century Mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan comes directly from the Centre via the Archaeological Survey of India. However, peripheral expenditure like roads being built near it or connectivity to the Taj is borne by the State government and there is precedence to this.  State government allocating money to the upkeep of the money is on expected lines as it earns crores of revenues through tourism, mainly because of Taj Mahal. However, money here is a secondary concern. The problem arises when your read the statement made by state finance minister Rajesh Agarwal:

Our state has been a carrier of ancient cultural heritage. But our younger generation is gradually distancing itself from the places of cultural and historical importance. Our government has formulated schemes for maintenance of places of cultural and historical importance to promote tourism.

Then why is Taj’s mention missing?  The fact that Yogi Adityanath sees Taj Mahal as an irritant, as a historical folly, as a reminder of perceived brutality of India by Muslims is a little problematic. Yogi thinks that gifting replicas of Taj Mahal to foreign dignitaries is against Indian culture. In an interview to a news channel, Yogi Adityanath very clearly stated that India should be known for its ancient scriptures and Yoga at the global platform. In the interview to Arnab Goswami he said, “the so-called secularists had confined the identity of this country to Taj Mahal. They did so to hide the real India.”

Indeed, India is known for Yoga worldwide. But how is the popularity of Yoga threatened by the popularity of Taj Mahal? There is no competition between the two. The two can co-exist. India didn’t jump from the ancient times to the modern times. The Mughal empire is a part of India’s medieval history just like British occupation is part of our modern history.

How do we process our culture and history without referring to historical landmarks? These are the only link between the past and present accessible to the common man. And thus each historical structure has its own importance and place. The act of categorising one era of history as less significant is loaded with bigotry and exhibits a certain lack of intellectual integrity. Looking at Taj Mahal or other Mughal architecture as a symbol of brutal occupation by outsiders and “subjugation of Hindus by Muslim rulers” — (without venturing into the historical facts, to which there will be different versions) — is erroneous.

Do we look at the Victoria Memorial and juxtapose it against the Bengal famine? Does colonial architecture of Lutyen’s Delhi and South Mumbai remind us of British repression and injustice? Technically it should. But now the structures have seamlessly merged with the bustling urban space around it and are major tourist spots. They are a part and parcel of our cultural heritage and history and we take pride in them. So, why this mindless contempt for the marvelous Taj Mahal?

“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.” –Adityanath

Source: The Telegraph.

It seems Yogi’s abhorrence for foreign occupation and subjugation  is confined to the Mughal period.

The British not only systematically fleeced India economically but also culturally.

You need to re-watch this viral speech by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor at the Oxford Union Society to understand the depths of inhuman exploitation India went through under the British rule.

They were committed to the cause of annihilating a people and culture to such an extent that till date we haven’t been able to recover from the colonial hangover and our obsession with all things British, including English. Yet, the moment Yogi came to power, he spoke about the importance of English education and how government schools should ensure their students were fluent in the language, completely forgetting that this apparent linguistic and cultural superiority was used by the British to rule over India for 200 years. Not that what he said was wrong. If learning English gives the poor children in government schools a level playing ground, it’s a progressive step and must be appreciated. But then why the blinkered view on Mughal architecture? Does it not reek of prejudice?

Yogi Adityanath’s apathy for Taj Mahal stands in stark contrast to the way former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav promoted it. One of the main characteristics of Akhilesh Yadav’s term as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was his frequent outing with his family to Taj Mahal. He was pictured posing in front of the monument with Dimple Yadav and his kids. Yadav’s prime focus was on increasing tourism and thus his promotion of Taj Mahal. To be honest, Taj Mahal is still a major draw for foreign tourists. According to Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s response in the Lok Sabha, the revenues earned through ticket sale at Taj Mahal were a whopping Rs 75 crore in three years. The money spent on its upkeep was merely a one-seventh of the amount. The entire Agra circle is a huge tourist attraction.

akhilesh-yadav

As a yogi, you might want to wear your prejudices on your sleeves. But as an administrator isn’t it important to promote tourism, focus more on the preservation of a world-class monument instead of ignoring a massive historical structure and a much-loved tourist destination in your own state?