Hindu nationalists ramp up protests over world-famous Taj Mahal

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN Desk) – A rising tide of Hindu-nationalismin India is now threatening the world-famous landmark Taj Mahal.

Right-wing Hindu nationalists who claim the Taj Mahal is built on top of an ancient Hindu temple are ramping up their protests at the world famous monument.

The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Uttar Pradesh state, where the Taj Mahal is located, has been accused of ignoring the 17th-century monument in the tourism booklet of the state, and controversial statements by some of its leaders have only added to the woes of the state government.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s efforts to put an end to the controversies surrounding the Taj Mahal proved to be futile on Thursday, as right-wing Hindu nationalist groups chanted “Jai Shri Ram” (“Long Live Lord Rama”) even as he wielded a broom at the marble wonder as part of a damage-control exercise.

Protesting members of Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh claimed that the Taj Mahal was built on top of a Shiva Temple that was razed by Muslim Mughal rulers centuries ago.

The authorities had reportedly issued official passes to the fringe group to participate in the event, which was seen as an effort to pacify frayed tempers following a series of controversial statements by several BJP leaders on the Taj Mahal.

BJP MP Sangeet Som stirred a controversy last week when he called the Taj Mahal a blot on Indian culture, while other right-wing politicians have said the Unesco World Heritage Site visited by millions was not representative of the Indian socio-cultural ethos.

Following Som's remarks, controversial Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi, who was appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said that the monument was constructed “by the blood and sweat of Indian labourers”.

Jumping on the bandwagon, senior Haryana Minister Anil Vij termed the marble monument as a “beautiful cemetery” while BJP MP Vinay Katiyar extended support to a group of right-wing activists protesting at the Taj Mahal.

Opposition to Modi’s BJP government was boosted this week with news that Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India’s most fabled political dynasty, will within weeks be crowned leader of the Congress party. His task will be to mount a credible challenge to the dominance of PM Modi.

The great-grandson of modern India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, has struggled to convince voters, as well as party members, of his leadership abilities, especially after a drubbing in the 2014 general election.

The 47-year- old has been dubbed an undeserving “prince” by Modi, which has helped to sideline Gandhi since the last national vote that saw a downturn in the Congress Party’s performance at the polls. But with the economy now faltering, Congress politicians hope a round of state elections, beginning in Modi’s home state of
Gujarat, could rejuvenate the party ahead of the next national poll in 2019.

Gandhi will take over as Congress president from his 70-year- old mother, Sonia Gandhi.

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