THE TELEGRAPH CALCUTTA EDITION
MONDAY 23 October 2017
WORM'S EYE VIEW
The Taj Mahal is India's most iconic monument and is listed by UNESCO as one of the universally acknowledged masterpieces of world heritage. Very unfortunately of late it has become an object of slander by BJP leaders like Sangeet Som and Vinay Katiyar. BJP MLA Sangeet Som said last Sunday October 15 at a gathering in Meerut that the Taj Mahal is "a blot on Indian culture" and a monument "built by traitors".
Senior BJP leader Vinay Katiyar on October 18 said the Taj Mahal was Lord Shiva’s temple called ‘Tejo Mahal’ which was converted into a mausoleum by Shahjahan. He, however, added that he does not want the monument as famous as this, which is among the wonders of the world, to be demolished. Readers would do well to read the word demolished in the context of the Babri Masjid Demolition case, where Mr. Katiyar is also an accused. Meanwhile, former U.P. Minister Azam Khan said, “It is almost definite that Taj Mahal will be destroyed because whatever P.N. Oak wrote in his book, all of that is being implemented by the fascist forces of India and the RSS.” Mr. Khan said that Oak had written that “there stood a Shiva temple in Ayodhya. If the Babri Masjid could be destroyed because people believe there stood a temple instead, then no place of worship in India is safe” (Report in the Hindu Lucknow 18 October 2017).
It is against the background of these ominous signs which are somewhat similar to that of the Babri Masjid, that Ms Manini Chatterjee's article in the Telegraph on the Taj Mahal becomes very relevant. Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
It is a measure of what has become of us as a people and a nation that we are actually applauding — or at least heaving an almost audible sigh of relief — at the turn of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, as a " good cop" in the latest episode of Hindutva 's perverse pantomime.
A couple of days after the Bharatiya Janata Party member of the legislative assembly from UP, Sangeet Som, lashed out at India's most iconic symbol and actually received support — and no reprimand — from his party leaders, Adityanath assured us that the Taj Mahal was going to be safe after all.
Addressing a rally in Meerut on October 15, Sangeet Som — who is an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots case — justified the UP government's removal of the Taj Mahal from a brochure listing important tourist destinations in the state.
Som said, "Many people were pained to see that the Taj Mahal had been removed from the list of historical places… what history… which history… the person who made Taj Mahal imprisoned his father — he targeted the Hindus of Uttar Pradesh and India… if these people still find place in history, then it is very unfortunate… and I guarantee that history will be changed." He went on to add: "Today, the governments of India and UP are working to bring that history on the correct path… from the history of Ram to Krishna, Maharana Pratap to Shivaji Rao, they are trying to incorporate them in the books… and the blots which are in our books, be it of Akbar, Aurangzeb, Babar — the government is working to remove them from history." That Som was not speaking on behalf of the "loony fringe" but echoed the views of his party became clear when one of the BJP's official spokesmen, G. V. L. Narasimha Rao, sought to justify Som's view of history.
Speaking to The Indian Express , Rao said, "As a party, we do not have a view on any individual monument. But, broadly speaking, the period of Islamic rule — around 800 years — was a period of extreme exploitation, insane barbarism and unprecedented intolerance to the other faith. If anyone tries to gloss over these facts, it will be actually distorting history." It is, of course, pointless to discuss the facts of history with the likes of Som and Rao. Som couldn't care less that Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son and did not imprison his father. And Rao — like his brethren who have learnt " history" in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas — has probably never heard of Akbar's Din-i- Ilahi, does not know of the astonishing efflorescence of a syncretic culture under Mughal patronage, and will certainly not be able to explain how Hinduism survived and thrived in the subcontinent in spite of the " unprecedented intolerance" of 800 years of Muslim rule.
Over the last few decades, we have become used to the outrageous remarks and the unprecedented intolerance of the Hindutva forces directed towards India's history. But that they should now be targeting what is arguably the world's most famous monument to eternal love and sublime beauty was, to millions of Indians, shocking beyond words.
And that is perhaps why Yogi Adityanath's words were seized upon as reassuring.
On October 17, the UP chief minister told reporters in Lucknow, "It is not necessary to go into why Taj Mahal was built, who built it, and for what purpose… What is important is that Taj Mahal was built by the blood and sweat of India's labourers and sons." He also let it be known that he will visit Agra later this week and probably announce a package for the beautification and upkeep of the environs around the Taj.
Whether he does so or not is, frankly, immaterial because Yogi Adityanath was, and remains, the arrowhead of the Hindutva forces' assault on India's pluralist culture and history, and the Taj Mahal is the latest and most audacious target of their relentless vandalism.
Let us not forget that it was Adityanath who first attacked the Taj Mahal as alien to Indian culture.
Addressing a public rally in Darbhanga on June 16 to mark the third anniversary of the Narendra Modi government, the UP chief minister spoke of the changes he had observed in the country over the last three years.
Elaborating, he said, "Pehle jab Bharat ka rashtradhraksha baahar jaate the, wo koi aisi vastu le jaate the jise kaha jaata tha Bharat ka pratik hai, ya jab videshi rashtradhyaksha Bharat aata tha to gift ke roop me Taj Mahal ya aisi koi minar di jaati thi jo Bharat ki sanskriti se bilkul mel nahi khati… Pehli baar aisa hua hai jab Bharat ki pradhanmantri Narendra Modiji bahar jaate hai ya bahar ke rashtradhyaksha yahan aate hai to unhe Srimad Bhagvad Gita pustak di jaati hai, unhe Ramayan bhent ki jaati hai.
(Earlier, when the head of State would go abroad, he would take something as gift that would represent Indian culture. Similarly, when heads of State from other countries visited India, they would be given a replica of Taj Mahal or some minaret not in consonance with Indian culture. For the first time, we have seen that when India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, goes abroad or a head of State comes to India, he is given the Bhagvad Gita or the Ramayana…)" His remarks served as a signal to the rabble rousers in the sangh parivar — tacitly supported by the top RSS- BJP leadership — that the Babri Masjid was passé ; the Taj Mahal itself was now fair game. The stepped- up attacks on the heritage of the Taj since then, interspersed with assurances that it will not be harmed, is part of the sangh parivar 's tried and tested pattern of extending the boundaries of malevolence bit by bit, making the most audacious pronouncements seem less outrageous through repeated assertion, and lulling the nation into accepting an ever changing ' new normal'. The RSS and the Modi regime are clever enough to know that demolishing the Taj Mahal is not an option right now. They may not care for its aesthetic beauty and are virulently allergic to India's Muslim past. But any physical assault on the Taj Mahal would lead to an international scandal that they can ill afford.
The Taj is also a lucrative revenue generator, thronged by more Indian and foreign tourists than perhaps any other site or monument in the country.
A nd so the effort now is to protect the edifice and rob it of its history. It is to this end that a chorus of voices is now making the claim that the Taj Mahal is actually a Hindu temple.
When P. N. Oak first made that assertion, no one — except Hindutva bigots who cannot accept that any culture can better mythic Hindu glory — took him seriously.
But today, not only are people like BJP's Vinay Katiyar talking of a Shiva temple that was converted into the Taj, even the Indian Council of Historical Research is planning to fund studies to show that " the Taj Mahal is a creation Hindu masons" who left "swastika marks" on their workmanship.
The Hindutva forces tasted blood by bringing down the Babri Masjid. Not enough of us stood up then to assert that Muslims alone were not " Babar ke aulad "; we all were. Regardless of the chequered course of India's past, every Indian today is a proud inheritor of all that has gone into the making of our rich history and Muslim rule, especially the Mughal period, is very much a part of it. It is evident in our clothing and our cuisine, our architecture and our aesthetics, our language and our lifestyles. Any attempt to divest the Taj of its history and replace it with a potted mythology is an assault not on that timeless monument but on us as a people, on our collective legacy.
Unless we realize this and resist the new vandalism more strongly than we did before, the malignant mindset that manifested itself and ravaged a 15th- century mosque in Ayodhya 25 years ago will metastasize and resurface in a more virulent form in Agra sooner than we may imagine.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org