Why Hindutva loves to hate Taj Mahal


ONE of the many zany ideas that had apparently been doing the rounds in the run up to the Partition included the demand to move the iconic Taj Mahal to the promised land of Pakistan. Thankfully, no one took it seriously, not even the leaders of the Pakistan movement, and the Taj Mahal has remained the most celebrated of India’s national monuments and the symbol of its composite culture.

It is not just its ethereal beauty that makes this architectural marvel, carved out of sheer white marble, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; the extraordinary history of Emperor Shah Jahan’s love and devotion for his beloved Mumtaz that makes the Taj Mahal — the eternal symbol of love. Not for nothing has it remained the most photographed monument in history and is rightly celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Taking a picture (selfies these days, of course) with the Taj Mahal in the background remains the dream of every foreign tourist to India — including those from across the border. Most visiting heads of governments and foreign leaders also try to squeeze in a visit to Agra in their itineraries.

Since Independence, it has been the tradition of Indian leaders to gift a Taj Mahal replica to all foreign guests. What better way to celebrate and cement new friendships and partnerships than with the exquisite symbol of love! Even Vajpayee, the BJP’s first prime minister, respected that tradition.

However, given the hate and hostility that this popular monument to love has lately been attracting from the Hindutva, I am not sure how long the Taj Mahal would maintain its celebrated status.

It all started changing, with the arrival of Narendra Modi (who else!) on the scene. While Hindutva’s “love” for all things Muslim and Mogul is hardly a secret and is as old as its history itself, it is the man from Gujarat who started demonstrating it at every opportunity.

So the Taj Mahal, the ultimate representation of love, goes out the window and is replaced by the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book whose backdrop is the epic war of Mahabharata. Which is what US President Barack Obama received after those endless hugs and photo ops in Delhi, once the seat of the Muslim rule and, what Modi calls, the “1200 years of slavery.”

As is the nature of fascism, Hindutva’s project to paint India saffron, including its past, has now been taken to absurd extremes with the Uttar Pradesh government headed by Yogi Adityanath dropping the Taj Mahal from its tourism campaign. The 32-page booklet titled ‘Uttar Pradesh Tourism – Its High Potential’ issued by the state government has omitted its most famous monument!

It is like France deciding to drop the Eiffel Tower as its most celebrated monument or the United States downgrading the exalted status enjoyed by New York’s Statue of Liberty.

Anyone crazy enough to even toy with such loony ideas would be locked away in a mental asylum. In India, however, they have been chosen to rule and run amok as they please.

Lest anyone thought the omission had been inadvertent, UP’s Minister for Religious and Minority Affairs has emphasized that the move had been deliberate as the Taj Mahal does not represent the Hindu heritage and culture.

Explaining the move, Minister Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary pointed out that the BJP government in UP is ‘rashtravadi’ (nationalist) and runs on ‘dharma niti’ (religious principles). And we all thought India was still governed by its secular and democratic constitution!

The minister has been kind enough to suggest that the Gorakhnath Temple of Gorakhpur, whose chief priest happens to be none other than his boss, chief minister Adityanath, should replace the Taj Mahal as the symbol of India’s largest state!

Which reminded me of an exchange between two foreign tourists a friend shared on Facebook:

First tourist: Do you know some official in India has removed Taj Mahal from the list of tourism destinations of Uttar Pradesh?

Second tourist: What on earth is Uttar Pradesh?

Seriously though, where are we headed? Where is this perpetual, manic Hindutva obsession to turn back the block and break away from the 1000-year old Muslim past of the country going to eventually land India?

The wound of the mindless destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya is still fresh and the same forces have now turned their hate-filled rage towards the ultimate epitome of love.

Just as they gradually built the ‘case’ against the 16th century Babri Masjid claiming it had been built at the ‘exact’ place where Lord Ram was born eons ago, the Parivar has now dipped into its bag of tricks to target the Taj Mahal and the image of its love-sick architect.

Sometimes they claim the Taj Mahal is built at the site of an ancient temple. Sometimes it is suggested that the Taj Mahal itself is a temple! Can you believe it?

Some other saffron bright spark comes up with the theory that the Taj Mahal had actually been a Rajput palace and was gifted to the Mughal emperor by one of his Rajput chieftains.

In any other country, these lunatics would be locked away in prison for targeting the nation’s prized monuments. In India, however, they are free to parade their crazed, hate-filled figments of imagination as ‘nationalism’!

From targeting rare historical monuments and rewriting history books to lynching people in the name of food and faith, fascism has taken total control of the world’s largest democracy and is dismantling it, systematically and deliberately.

It is incredible what the BJP and its hydra-headed Parivar has already managed to accomplish in the three years they have been in power.

By capturing the vital levers of power and the deep state, including the various think tanks and scientific research bodies, not to mention the media, the Parivar is fast transforming the India of Gandhi’s dreams into its own frightening image.

It is a sign of changing times that a bust of Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, a Hindu Mahasabha/RSS veteran, was unveiled in the BJP-ruled UP on October 2, the birth anniversary of the Mahatma. Gandhi and Nehru and all the other heroes of the freedom struggle must be turning in their graves.

This is not the idea of India that they had fought for. Is this why they faced the full wrath of the British imperialism and spent their best years in prisons? Is this why Gandhi sacrificed his life so that those who detested him, colluded with the British, fought his politics of inclusion and eventually killed him could take the reins of the republic and destroy it? I wouldn’t think so.

But who would take on the challenge posed by the Hindutva specter? The opposition remains in total disarray even as the BJP goes about dismantling all secular and democratic institutions of the country. Even if the BJP is successfully confronted and defeated in the 2019 polls, the lasting damage it has inflicted on the body-politic would be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf based writer and former opinion editor of Khaleej Times. Email: Aijaz.Syed@hotmail.com