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Som, accused of inciting Hindu mobs during Muzaffarnagar riots, says the UNESCO World Heritage site was built by traitors, BJP disowns remarks

Weeks after the Uttar Pradesh government drew flak for excluding the Taj Mahal from its brochure on tourism hot spots in the state, controversial BJP legislator Sangeet Som has once again dragged the UNESCO World Heritage Site into a political debate, claiming that the 17th Century marble mausoleum is a “blot on Indian culture”.

Addressing a function in Sisoli village of UP’s Meerut district on Sunday, Sangeet Som, BJP MLA from the state’s Sardhana constituency, claimed that the Taj Mahal – listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World – was “built by traitors”.

Misrepresenting historical facts, the controversial legislator also told the audience that “the person (Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan) who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father” and sought to use the architectural marvel as a means to foment communal tension by claiming that “the one who built the Taj targeted many Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Hindustan”.

Clearly, Som hasn’t read much of history – or at least the history of the Mughal rulers of India – for it wasn’t Shah Jahan who imprisoned his father (Emperor Jahangir). While Jahangir went on to serve as the Mughal ruler until his death in October 1627, it was Shah Jahan who was imprisoned by his son and successor, Aurangzeb in 1658 and kept in confinement for eight years, until his death in 1666.

But then history obviously doesn’t interest Som, who is also accused of inciting Hindu mobs during the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 which resulted in the death of at least 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus and left nearly 50,000 people from the western UP district displaced.

The BJP legislator reportedly said at the function, which was organised to inaugurate a statue of the 8th century Hindu king Anangpal Singh Tomar, that: “Many people were worried that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places in the UP tourism booklet. What history are we talking about? The man who built Taj Mahal… wanted to massacre Hindus. If this is history, then it is very unfortunate and we will change this history, I guarantee you.”

Clearly embarrassed by the row that Som’s remarks triggered, the BJP sought to distance itself from the controversy on Monday. The party’s spokespersons – Nalin Kohli and GVL Narsimha Rao claimed that the remarks were “not the party’s view” on the Taj Mahal but were Som’s “personal views”. Rao, however, claimed that Som was entitled to make the obviously divisive comments as per his right to freedom of speech.

The BJP, however, did not categorically shun Som’s comments for their historical misrepresentation and communal overtones but instead acknowledged the Taj Mahal purely as a “tourist spot”. While Kohli said the Taj Mahal is “part of incredible India”, Rao insisted that “it is a symbol of barbarism and it is a monument.”

However, Sangeet Som’s comments did trigger strong reactions on Twitter with several political leaders and common Twitteratti lashing out the BJP legislator for his remarks and ever wondering if Prime Minister Narendra Modi would stop hoisting the Indian tricolour from the Red Fort – also built by Shah Jahan – onAugust 15 as the red sandstone monument in New Delhi was also part of the legacy of the man who had the Taj Mahal built.

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