Indian legislator calls heritage site Taj Mahal a blot on culture

NEW DELHI (ANN Desk) - Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Sangeet Som's remarks come shortly after the Uttar Pradesh tourism department decided to tick off Taj Mahal from its tourism booklet earlier this month.

Even as the world is bending backwards to draw in tourists, India's best known spot on the tourism map   – the Taj Mahal – is being treated as a “blot” on Indian culture that needed to be “erased”.

On Monday, Sangeet Som, a controversial legislator from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's most populous state Uttar Pradesh said, “...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.”

Som's remarks come shortly after the Uttar Pradesh tourism department decided to omit Taj Mahal  from its tourism booklet.

Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1628–1658) built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. This monument of love is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra – attracting 7-8 million tourists a year. 

The Taj Mahal was designated as a Unseco World Heritage Site in1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. In 2007, it was declared a winner of the New7Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative.

Som, a two-time legislator from Sardhana in this north Indian state, believes that it was Mughal Emperor Aurganzeb, the most hated of all Mughals, who built the Taj. In the past, Som has been charged with stoking tensions during Hindu-Muslim violence. 

Following Som's remarks, Taj Mahal started trending on Twitter. While most expressed shock at Som's ignorance – that he believed that Aurangzeb and not Shah Jahan built the monument, some others agreed with him and called it a symbol of pillage and loot.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee called it “a systematic failure and a systematic political agenda to finish India’s values, culture and heritage”, she told a TV news channel. 

Audrey Truschke, a scholar on Mughal history, who has been trolled for writing a book on Aurangzeb tweeted: “Sangeet Som says 'we will change this history' -- Remember, that's one thing the #BJP can never accomplish”. 

In 2016, Truschke made heads turn with her book “Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court”. She wrote about India's pluralistic culture and how Akbar ordered the translation of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata into Persian and made it an important part of the curriculum of the Mughal princes. 

Truschke's book on Aurangzeb says he is mostly misunderstood and he doesn't deserve to be hated for being a conservative.

Meanwhile, the BJP was quick in its defence saying Som's views were personal. The PTI quoted BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao saying his party does not have any view on specific monuments and its members can hold whatever opinion they have.
"But as far as the Muslim, Mughal rule in this country is concerned, that period can only be described as exploitative, barbaric and a period of incomparable intolerance which harmed Indian civilisation and traditions immensely."
The BJP has been accused of rewriting Indian history to include forgotten heroes. However, many believe the party wants to reshape public memory to further its majoritarian agenda.

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