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Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath says Taj Mahal was built by blood and sweat of Indian labourers

Facing flak for its controversial Uttar Pradesh legislator Sangeet Som’s remarks against the Taj Mahal, who dubbed the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a “blot on Indian culture”, the BJP seems to have gone into a damage control mode.

A day after several party leaders distanced themselves from Som’s remarks, calling them his “personal view”, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has now stepped forward to speak up on the row, claiming that “it doesn’t matter who built it (the Taj Mahal) and for what reason…it was built by the blood and sweat of Indian labourers”.

Som, besides terming the monument – which is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World – as a “blot on Indian culture” had also said that it was “built by traitors” (a reference to the Mughal rulers) and that “The man who built Taj Mahal (Emperor Shah Jahan)… wanted to massacre Hindus”.

Som’s remarks had drawn widespread criticism with several Opposition leaders using the comments as ammunition to attack the BJP’s purported “politics of hate”.  Som’s comments came weeks after the Adityanath government was slammed for bringing out a brochure on tourism hot spots in Uttar Pradesh which did not list Taj Mahal – undoubtedly the biggest tourist attraction of the state – but instead promoted the chief minister’s pocket borough of Gorakhpur.

On Tuesday, Adityanath not only offered a rebuttal of Som’s remarks but his government also confirmed that the chief minister will visit the Taj Mahal and other places in Agra on October 25.

Adityanath also sought to put to rest the controversy over triggered by the UP tourism brochure which omitted the reference to Taj Mahal. The chief minister insisted that the 17th Century marble mausoleum – which has attracts millions of tourists including global leaders like former US presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the late Princess Diana, among others – is “very important for us from a tourism perspective”.

Adityanath’s reaction to the Taj Mahal row was in fact more vocal than most of his BJP colleagues in New Delhi (the likes of party spokespersons GVL Narsimha Rao) who, while stating that Som’s views weren’t shared by the party, still endorsed the Sardhana MLA’s claims that the Taj Mahal was a symbol of “barbaric” Mughal rule.

The UP chief minister’s response can be seen as one that takes into account the fact that although the Taj Mahal’s past may be linked to Islamic rulers of India, its present ensures livelihood for lakhs of people who work at the Taj and around it – tourist guides, shopkeepers, hotel owners and staff, etc – who belong to all faiths, including Hinduism. Alienating this vast section of people in and around Agra could prove costly to Adityanath and his BJP electorally in the state.

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