Yogi Adityanath visited Ayodhya in June this year. He is the first Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to visit Ayodhya after 15 years. He went so far as to draw a parallel between his party’s win in Ayodhya and the return of the Hindu mythological god, Ram, to the city after his exile.
At a grand Diwali fest that took place there on Wednesday, he spoke about the glory of ancient Ayodhya and promised to restore it by eliminating discrimination based on caste and religion. And there is one thing that is overshadowing the Hindu glory of UP: the Taj Mahal.
In June, at his first rally after being appointed the CM, Adityanath expressed displeasure at how foreign dignitaries were gifted Taj Mahal miniatures as souvenirs by previous governments and appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for gifting the Gita and Ramayana instead.
In the same month, he enabled the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to bring in stones for constructing a Ram temple on the Babri site. A similar move in 2015 was stopped in its tracks by the then Samajwadi Party government who refused the VHP Form 39 of the commercial taxes department, which is required for these imports. Speaking to The Wire, VHP leader Triloki Nath Pandey said, “There is a BJP government in the state so now there is no hurdle in the way of the construction of the Ram mandir.”
In July 2017, Adityanath stated that people should not connect “Taj Mahal with Indian culture”. His first budget also does not feature any allocation of funds for tourism development in Agra, known for its Mughal past.
Earlier this month, the UP government released a tourism booklet, which lists as a destination the Gorakhnath Peeth in Gorakhpur, of which Adityanath is the chief priest, among other places of religious importance to Hindus. The Taj Mahal, however, is conspicuous in its absence. The booklet also calls Ayodhya the birthplace of Ram.
Adityanath went into damage control mode after this, saying that the monument was built by Indian labourers with their “blood and sweat”, and that it will be conserved and developed. He will also be visiting the Taj Mahal on October 25. It is important to note that he did not backtrack on his earlier statement that Indians should not connect Taj Mahal with Indian culture.
Taj Mahal is the most popular tourist spot in UP. A look at its revenue figures could give us a clue: between 2013 and 2016, Rs. 11 crores were spent on conserving the monument, while it earned Rs. 75 crores. From a religious perspective, the monument does not conform to BJP’s ideal faith: Hinduism. It makes for the perfect target for BJP’s divisive politics.
One wouldn’t be too far off the mark in guessing that Yogi is setting the stage for a larger goal: constructing a Ram temple on the site of Babri Masjid. After all, it was the campaign to demolish Babri Masjid that secured the majority votes for BJP in 1996, and 2019 is not too far away.