UP TOURISM: TAJ SHOWN ITS PLACE
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.