Taj Mahal and a silly nation lost to irrelevance
By Dr George Jacob
Kochi: Sangeet Som, a “senior” legislature belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, stirred a hornet’s nest recently when he qualified the Taj Mahal, one of the ‘seven wonders of the modern world’ as “a blot on Indian culture,” and “a monument built by traitors.”
Now, who is a traitor? The dictionary tells us a traitor is a person who betrays his country by committing treason. So then, what is treason? The dictionary gives three meanings for ‘treason’; it could be a crime that undermines the offender’s government, or, it could be disloyalty by virtue of subversive behavior, or further still, an act of deliberate betrayal.
The Taj Mahal, a mausoleum situated in Agra in Uttar Pradesh, on the banks of the Yamuna River, was commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 to house the tomb of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. Regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 for being ‘the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.’
The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian, and never a traitor by any stretch of imagination, described the Taj as ‘the teardrop on the cheek of time,’ referring to the somber intention and circumstances for which the masterpiece was constructed.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor. Mughals who ruled most of India in the 16th and 17th centuries after invading it were mostly ethnic Turks, and never ‘Indians.’ Therefore, they do not qualify for the label ‘traitors.’ But those Indians who sully the Indian nationhood by lynching people eating beef or hurting those engaged in cattle trade could be termed as traitors. Forcing people to rise up when the national anthem is sung or the national flag unfurled could also sully the nationhood.
Even policies that blow up Indian economy through destructive steps could also hurt nationhood. They include demonetization, which brought death and misery to numerous Indians, and GST that caused significant and gargantuan hike in prices of essential commodities.
Since Shah Jahan was not Indian he was not a traitor. He never committed treason like those who showcase India of the 21st century in extremely poor light before nations. What ‘treason’ then is this Som talking about? If, through some mechanism, Shah Jahan is conferred the title of a ‘traitor,’ the Prime Minister will have no business to address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day. The Read Fort was also built by the ‘traitor’ Shah Jahan in 1639 as the palace of his fortified capital, Shahjanahabad.
If the Prime Minister persists in doing so, he too will be tagged as ‘traitor’ by the likes of Som, who continued with his diatribes ‘what history are we talking about? The man who built Taj Mahal imprisoned his father. He wanted to massacre Hindus. If this is history, then it is very unfortunate and we will change this history. I guarantee you,’ he ranted.
He had for company other more vociferous “traitors” such as Vinay Katiyar, the BJP member of Rajya Sabha, who calimed that a Shiva temple called Tejo Mahal once existed at the spot where the Taj Mahal now stands. The temple was demolished by the Mughals to build the mausoleum. One wonders if Lord Shiva really needs temples built by mere humans for His sojourn, when He has the entire Kilash to himself.
Katiyar was one of the spearheads of the Ram Janam Bhoomi movement, which ultimately brought down the Babri Masjid on December 6 1992, tarnishing India’s pride and reputation as a truly pluralistic and secular nation. This shameful blot on Indian history qualify as one of the biggest examples of treason in post-independence India, built on the sweat, blood and ideals of a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who the modern India has chosen to relegate to the trash can.
This unsavory and unnecessary controversy was created out of nowhere. Does it aim to garner votes for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2019 general elections?
It represents immaturity of modern India as a democracy and more importantly, trepidation of India as a nation. Probably it is this lack of confidence in herself, and in her current governing apparatus, that India now turns back at the Taj and its history in extremely fearful agitation.
It represents modern India’s glaring fear and nervousness with numerous minority communities existing within it, especially the Muslims, who are integral part and her history. The controversy surrounding the Taj exposes BJP’s blatant ‘Islamophobia.’ There are other numerous structures that were constructed in India by her invaders. Possibly, the Englishmen had erected more structures of national identity and individuality than the Mughals, like the Rashratapati Bhawan and the Parliament House. Construction of these too would have necessitated pulling down places of worship of Hindus. If indeed that was necessary, the zealots of BJP wouldn’t have bothered, as those involved in their construction were the British and not Muslims, the anathema by default to the BJP. Or, would they chose to call Christians ‘traitors’, now that the British have left Indian shores?
It also represents the BJP’s strange ‘allergy’ for history. Why does the past haunt them? Why this futile exercise to alter and do way with history? That exercise will only be in vain, as history is etched in time, and to every nation’s identity. History will persist until and into eternity, like it or not. The Taj is the identity, and has become part of Indian history and culture. It is the identification mark with which the rest of the world identifies India.
That is exactly why the Taj attracts a large number of tourists every year. According to UNESCO, more than 2 million visited the Taj in 2001, which frog leaped to 7-8 million in 2014. If Indian history doesn’t seem appetizing to the BJP and the rightwing forces, it certainly does to the rest of the more sensible world. That is probably why Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, decided to take a sensible stand. He maintains that ‘it does not matter who built the Taj and for what reason; it was built by the blood and sweat of Indian laborers.’ For once, the yogi talked sense. He continued ‘It is my government’s priority to provide facilities and safety to tourists’. To him, Shah Jahan ceased to be a traitor as valuable money earned through tourism was at stake.
It also represents lack of belief in Hinduism’s innate strength. Hinduism, of all faiths, does not need structures which allegedly were dismantled to make way for others to fall back on for its unique strength and all-encompassing glory. The deities worshiped by the Hindus wouldn’t care less. They do not need structures built by human to reside. What they need are hearts of men bereft of malice, violence and naked hatred for fellow human beings. The fear and nervousness of Som and Katiyar at a mere mausoleum is therefore difficult to discern. They forget that Hinduism is much more than buildings, including the Taj Mahal.
It also represents lack of control Prime Minister Modi commands over runaway elements and bigmouths within his party. Som and katiyar seem hell-bent in bringing to naught the mandate Indians gave to the Modi-led BJP alliance to assume power in Delhi. The duo and others could make the NDA government as one of the biggest disappointments of post-independence India that was sick and tired of the Congress misrule.
The Prime Minister’s great ideals remain just grandiose dreams while the promises he made are yet to be honored. Fanatical elements within his party are sure to squander away a golden opportunity for rightwing forces to steer India to a better tomorrow. It the BJP falters at this crucial opportunity, the Taj would easily become a mausoleum for India as a rather silly nation lost to irrelevance.
In such an eventuality,
• India would become a laughing stock among nations as it seems scared of history and unwilling to accommodate and accept history as their identity
• India would become one of the most insecure countries for tourists to visit. What attracts tourists to a locale is its history. Who will trust a nation which is not trusted by her citizens or the government, a nation plain scared of her history?
• India would confirm her increasing disrepute where its minorities coexist with the majority in insecurity, fear, disrespect and are constantly being considered askance as enemies, and ‘traitors’, and a blot to her great culture.