Did Yogi Adityanath Defend Taj Mahal Because of Pressure From PMO?

No BJP leader dare ignore a rap from the PMO. So painful as it may have been, Adityanath had to speak up.

4 min read
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. <i>(Photo: Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)</i>

The words must have stuck in Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s throat as he forced himself to defend the Taj Mahal against maverick Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Sangeet Som’s vitriolic attack on a heritage monument that figures in the list of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

“The Taj Mahal is very important in terms of tourism. Its conservation, promotion for development of tourism, and providing protection and facilities for tourists who visit the monument is the Uttar Pradesh government’s responsibility. We will fulfill our duty,’’ Adityanath said, as he sought to douse the controversy stoked by Som.

Yogi’s Forced Peacekeeping Mission

This comes from a man who in his earlier avatar as a Hindutva rabble rouser had views similar to Som’s. Adityanath has often scorned the Taj as something that’s not part of Indian history because it was built by the Mughals.

His volte face now is not surprising. It came when alarm bells started ringing in New Delhi that another unnecessary controversy was in the making, this time with international repercussions. Social media was already buzzing. It was a matter of time before the foreign press went to town too.

Already reeling from negative international publicity on the economy, the Modi government can ill afford one more black mark in these difficult times.

No BJP Chief Minister dares ignore a rap from the Prime Minister’s Office. So painful as it may have been, Adityanath had to speak up for a Mughal monument, although he was careful to add many caveats by stressing on the tourism bit to insulate his Hindutva iconic status.

And again, on orders from the top, he has announced that he will visit Agra and the Taj on October 26 as part of a peacekeeping mission.

The date was carefully chosen to give him time to parade his Hindutva credentials with a huge Diwali celebration at Ayodhya. If he can’t give them the temple, give them big bang Diwali festivities they’ll never forget, I say. Still, the decision to defend a Mughal legacy is a historic first for the BJP. In Hindutva iconography, the Taj Mahal is actually a temple to Shiva known as Tejo Mahalaya. And no BJP or RSS worker would admit otherwise.

And this is what those who whipped up the storm in the first place counted on. It is interesting that the genesis of the controversy lies in the decision of the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Ministry to omit the Taj Mahal from its recently released list of tourism destinations in the state.


Not on the Same Page

The Tourism Minister happens to be an import from the Congress, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who joined the BJP on the eve of the Assembly elections. While her late father, HN Bahuguna, whose secular credentials are a matter of record, must have turned in his grave at the treachery of his daughter, Joshi was clearly eager to prove her commitment to her new creed. As they say, she was being more loyal than the king.

Unfortunately, she found herself in the middle of a media brouhaha. She quickly backtracked and her ministry announced that the omission was a “mistake’’. Now it has made up further by including the Taj Mahal in its tourism calendar for 2018 which is otherwise dominated by Hindu religious destinations.

Too late. Disgruntled leaders like Sangeet Som and Vinay Katiyar jumped in, if only to grab the headlines. Som called the Taj “a blot on Indian culture’’ while Katiyar revived the Shiva temple theory.

Both have a background of dissidence. Som is a Thakur who belongs to the anti-Yogi camp, while Katiyar is a marginalised mandir movement leader whose Rajya Sabha term comes to an end next year.

If they hoped to curry favour with the RSS bosses by stoking the Taj controversy, they clearly miscalculated. While the RSS may be pleased, specially since it comes at a time when the Sangh is anxious to keep polarisation simmering through tricks like putting Ayodhya on the front burner with a grand Diwali celebration, the Modi government has other compulsions.


Tourism Jackpot

The Taj Mahal is a cash cow for the central exchequer. It’s also India’s best known emblem internationally. Last year, Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma disclosed in Parliament that the Taj is the country’s highest revenue earner from tourist visits. It netted Rs 75 crore just through ticket sales over the past three years. Its annual earnings are double of the takings from the second most visited tourist attraction in the country, the Agra Fort.

It’s also a priority item on the bucket list of things to see in India of every VIP who comes calling. Remember the famous picture of a lonely Princess Diana sitting by herself on the bench in front of the Taj? It became the symbol of her collapsing marriage. Or recall former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who came to India for a second visit just to pose in front of the famous monument with his wife, Carla Bruni.

In-house motormouths are Modi’s Achilles heel. While it may suit the RSS and the BJP to keep communal temperatures near boiling point to win elections, Modi is not quite on the same page. This is a time when the economy is unraveling and the government is facing a severe backlash from those hit by demonetisation and GST labour pains.

The PM has to walk a fine line between governance compulsions and electoral benefits. Will the Sangeet Soms and Vinay Katiyars of his party let him?

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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