Sangeet Som’s remarks often create controversy and rarely cause surprise. The BJP MLA from Sardhana in Uttar Pradesh has, in fact, built his reputation with such remarks, often directed against minorities.
When Som called the Taj Mahal a blot on Indian culture and history and warned that the names of Mughal emperors would be removed from history, many in the BJP felt he had a purpose. “He is addressing his constituency,” said a senior leader.
“Many people were pained to see that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of [tourist destinations]. What type of history? Is this history that the person who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? Do you call it a history when the one who built the Taj targeted many Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Hindustan?” Som had said
For once, the BJP did not completely disown what he said. Party spokesperson G V L Rao’s reaction was: “As a party we do not have view son any individual monuments. But broadly speaking, the period of Islamic rule — around 800 years — was a period that of extreme exploitation, insane barbarism and unprecedented intolerance to the other faith…”
This contrasted with the way the BJP had reacted when Som threatened that the party could give a “befitting reply” if “innocents were framed” for lynching of a man over beef rumours in Dadri. Then, many party leaders had expressed their views against his “over-enthusiasm” which they said “had defamed BJP and its government” internationally. Also Read | Saroj Pandey, often mild, sometimes aggressive against minister or CPM
Those remarks seemed to have damaged Som, too, at a time when he was considered the state’s upcoming Thakur leader along with Yogi Adityanath. BJP insiders said even party chief Amit Shah, who had justified his comments as necessary to keep his constituency intact, was not happy with this “interference” into affairs outside Sardhana. Party insiders said this could be the reason Som was not given a ministerial berth in Yogi’s cabinet in UP last year.
A two time-sitting MLA, Som, now 39, was born to an affluent Thakur family in Alamgir village (Faridpur) in Meerut district’s Sardhana. He was raised in Khatauli near Muzaffaragar. Known as a right-wing hardliner, he is among the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots. He has been felicitated with awards such as Hindu Hriday Samrat and Mahathakur Sangharshveer by various religious groups. He was booked for alleged involvement in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and also under the National Security Act in September 2013.
The Justice Vishnu Sahai Commission report on the Muzaffarnagar riots has named him among the people responsible for inciting the riots. In January this year, Som was booked for showing video clips of riots to people as part of a documentary but he was later given a clean chit. After the BJP won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Som was provided Z-category security.
His latest remarks, which came after a controversy over a tourism booklet released by the UP government that had no mention of the Taj Mahal, could gel with the party’s strategies for Gujarat, where the BJP wants to keep its Hindu votes intact. Som’s comments came a week after Yogi told The Indian Express: “The Taj Mahal is a very prominent tourist centre. We have initiated a number of schemes for its development from the tourism point of view.”
Som had contested the Lok Sabha polls from Muzaffarnagar as a Samajwadi Party candidate in 2009, and lost. He joined the BJP in December 2011, a few days before the announcement of the 2012 assembly elections.