NEW DELHI – Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said on Tuesday the Taj Mahal was an important tourist draw and it was immaterial who built it, in an apparent move to stem a controversy over the 17th-century marble monument to love.
“It does not matter who built it and for what reason. It was built by the blood and sweat of Indian labourers … It is very important for us, especially from the tourism perspective. It is our priority to provide facilities and safety to tourists,” the chief minister said in Kushinagar.
Adityanath also announced his plan to visit the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and other important monuments in Agra, a day after Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sangeet Som kicked up a storm over the mausoleum.
“The CM will visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort on October 26 to review tourism schemes in Agra. The CM will also take stock of the work being carried out in Agra,” an official spokesperson said.
This will be the first visit of Adityanath to the Taj Mahal after taking over as the chief minister on March 19.
Adityanath’s remark is being seen as an attempt by the state government to put to rest the controversy after BJP’s Sardhana legislator Som said the Taj Mahal was “built by traitors”. The statement drew widespread criticism.
The BJP too appeared to disown Som’s remarks and called his comments on the Unesco World Heritage Site, his “individual view”.
The Taj Mahal draws crores of rupees in annual revenue but has received a barrage of negative comments in recent months from top BJP leaders, including Adityanath – who in June said the ivory-white marble mausoleum didn’t represent “Indian culture”.
Adityanath presided over a meeting to review the development projects in Agra on May 7 and also inspected the Yamuna but did not visit the Taj Mahal or areas close to the monument.
On July 11, the Adityanath government did not mention the Taj Mahal in “Hamari Sanskritik Virasat” (Our Cultural Heritage), a part of the annual budget presented in the state assembly by the minister for finance Rajesh Agarwal.
Last month, the state government omitted the reference to the Taj Mahal in a booklet published on the completion of six months of the Adityanath government. The move drew sharp criticism, prompting state tourism minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi to remark that the Taj Mahal was of great importance to the state government as well as the nation.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s reaction:
Earlier on Monday, responding to BJP’s Uttar Pradesh legislator Sangeet Som’s comments questioning Taj Mahal’s place in history, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi asked if the government would tell tourists not to visit the monument.
Courting fresh controversy, Som on Sunday questioned Taj Mahal’s place in history, distorting historical facts to say that it was built by an emperor who had imprisoned his father and targeted Hindus.
In comments that came after the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh reportedly left out the Taj Mahal from an official tourism booklet, Som said, “Many people were pained to see that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of places (tourist destinations). What type of history?
“Is this history that the person who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? Do you call it history when the one who built the Taj targeted many Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Hindustan?”
In fact, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, was the one imprisoned till the end of his days by his son Aurangzeb.
The MLA from Sardhana also termed Mughal emperors Babur, Akbar and Aurangzeb “traitors” and said their names would be removed from the pages of history.
Responding to the comments, Owaisi, the Lok Sabha member from Hyderabad, tweeted, ““Traitors” also build Red Fort will Modi stop hoisting Tiranga? Can Modi and Yogi tell domestic and foreign tourist not to visit Taj Mahal?”
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief also said Hyderabad House in Delhi, the venue for the Centre hosting foreign dignitaries, was built by “traitor”.
“Even Hyderabad House in Delhi was built by “Traitor” will Modi stop hosting Foreign Dignitaries?” he asked.
Hyderabad House was built by Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam, on a land offered by the British.