UP TOURISM: TAJ SHOWN ITS PLACE

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Ashish Misra

The Ut­tar Pradesh gov­ern­ment held a press con­fer­ence on Septem­ber 27, World Tourism Day, to pub­li­cise a 32-page book­let list­ing the state’s many at­trac­tions. Con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence in that list was the Taj Ma­hal, one of the world’s seven won­ders but ap­par­ently an eye­sore for the UP chief min­is­ter, Yogi Adityanath.

Back in June, at his first rally af­ter the BJP’s thump­ing elec­tion vic­tory and his sur­prise ap­point­ment, Adityanath had com­plained that in the past, for­eign dig­ni­taries were “gifted repli­cas of the Taj Ma­hal and other mon­u­ments that did not re­flect In­dian cul­ture”. The snub was com­pounded in his gov­ern­ment’s first bud­get when no funds were al­lot­ted to im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for tourists vis­it­ing Agra. In July, Adityanath dou­bled down on pre­vi­ous re­marks by re­it­er­at­ing in Varanasi, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s con­stituency, that peo­ple “should not con­nect the Taj Ma­hal with In­dian cul­ture” and iden­tity.

No won­der then that UP’s new tourism brochure fea­tures the fa­mous Ganga aarti of Varanasi on the cover and de­votes an en­tire page to the Go­rakhnath mutt. Per­haps, in the UP gov­ern­ment’s view, the Taj is too iconic to need much pro­mo­tion. Ac­cord­ing to cen­tral gov­ern­ment data, 458,000 peo­ple vis­ited the mon­u­ment be­tween Jan­uary and July this year, a 30 per cent in­crease over the same pe­riod last year.

Ram Prakash, a long-time tour guide in Agra, said the “BJP gov­ern­ment treats the Taj Ma­hal as if it’s linked only to a par­tic­u­lar mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity. But more than 80 per cent of the shops sur­round­ing it are owned by Hin­dus, as are most of the ho­tels. By ig­nor­ing the Taj, the BJP is hurt­ing its own sup­port­ers”. When Sa­ma­jwadi Party leader Akhilesh Ya­dav was UP chief min­is­ter, he spent sev­eral hun­dred crores to “beau­tify” the area around Taj and im­prove in­fra­struc­ture. Ac­cord­ing to Ya­dav, “CM Yogi Adityanath should now write a let­ter to the PM ask­ing him to ban na­tional and in­ter­na­tional tourists from vis­it­ing the Taj Ma­hal.”

UP tourism min­is­ter Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who re­leased the con­tro­ver­sial brochure, has been tasked with fight­ing a rear­guard ac­tion in the face of wide­spread crit­i­cism. “Taj Ma­hal,” she said, “is our cul­tural her­itage.” Awan­ish Awasthi, prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary to the CM, said the gov­ern­ment is de­vot­ing

“Rs 156 crore to pro­jects re­lated to the Taj”. Too late though for the car­toon­ists and so­cial me­dia wags laugh­ing at the UP gov­ern­ment for its pet­ti­ness, its one-sided feud with one of the most glo­ri­ous of In­dia’s cul­tural trea­sures.

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