Rabindranath Tagore called it “the tear drop on the cheek of eternity”. On Sunday, Sangeet Som, a BJP legislator from UP, corrected Tagore at a meeting in Meerut and claimed the Taj Mahal was a “blot” on India. Som’s remarks were triggered by the recent controversy over the absence of the Taj in a UP tourism department brochure. Som explained his aversion to the 17th century Mughal-built World Heritage Site thus: “Many people were pained to see that the Taj Mahal had been removed from the list of historical places… what history… which history… the person who made the Taj imprisoned his father… he targeted all the Hindus of Uttar Pradesh and India… if these people still find place in history, then it is very unfortunate.” He also claimed the governments in UP and the Centre were rewriting history. “From the history of Ram to Krishna, Maharana Pratap to Shivaji Rao, they are trying to incorporate them in the textbooks… and the blots which are in our books, be it of Akbar, Aurangzeb, Babur, the government is working to remove them from history,” he added.
The BJP has distanced itself from the MLA’s remarks, describing it as his personal views. However, Som is no lone-wolf; his bigoted worldview has acceptance in many quarters. In Rajasthan, education minister, Vasudev Devnani, has announced that students will be taught that Rana Pratap, not the Mughals, won the Battle of Haldighati. The BJP government in Maharashtra plans to revise school books to focus on Maratha glory and downplay Mughal history, which is now identified solely with Muslims. Elsewhere, there is a demand to rename places, roads, buildings named after the great Mughals.
A narrative that started by the demonisation of Aurangzeb — a road in his name in New Delhi was recently renamed as A P J Abdul Kalam Marg — as the bigoted emperor has now been expanded to include the entire Mughal history. From Babur downwards, the Mughals are being described as “outsiders” in the manner of colonial historians who interpreted Indian history as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims to deny the existence of a multi-faith, multi-cultural society. It was such a misreading of history that divided a people and finally led to the Partition of the Subcontinent amidst murder and mayhem. Yet, politicians refuse to recognise that the willful rewriting of history to further sectarian interests is political fraught.
The likes of Som are nonchalant about polarising the society on communal lines for political gains. Som, for instance, has in the past been booked for using social media to disseminate hate speeches and videos. The BJP leadership’s unwillingness to censure crude and communal propaganda has emboldened these leaders to constantly test the faultlines. Is it then a surprise that when Som looks at the Taj Mahal, all he can see is Hindu vs Muslim?