What is the Taj Mahal – UP tourism department controversy all about?

 

The Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department recently released a 32-page booklet titled ‘Uttar Pradesh Paryatan – Apaar Sambhavnaayein‘ (Uttar Pradesh Tourism – Limitless Possibilities), featuring most of the cultural and heritage sites in the state. However, it has no mention of Taj Mahal, one of the seven ‘wonders of the world’.

The move has not gone unnoticed as it comes a few months after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that Taj Mahal “did not reflect Indian culture”. Released by state Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna, the cover has a picture of the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi with a picture of Adityanath and Bahuguna lighting a traditional lamp on the inside.

The booklet features most of the cultural and religious sites of tourism and carries names of temples from Mathura, Ayodhya and Gorakhpur. Giving special attention to sites pertaining to the Hindu religion, it promotes Ayodhya as the birthplace of Hindu god Ram and Mathura-Vrindavan for their links to another Hindu deity Krishna. It emphasises on the religious and cultural significance of Varanasi and its ghats, the upcoming Ardh Kumbh Mela of Allahabad, and also covers most of the cultural and heritage cites like Awadh and Gorakhpur.

The Gorakhpeeth in Gorakhpur, which has the UP CM Adityanath as its head priest, has also been presented as a tourist attraction, along with the Devipatan Shakti Peeth. The booklet also mentions the work done and the development projects for Naimisharanya, Allahabad, Chitrakoot, Kushinagar, Bundelkhand, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra.

The absence of a single mention of Taj Mahal in the entire booklet led to reactions from various leaders. CPM member Brinda Karat said, “I believe that for people all over the world, one of the major spots for tourists is the Taj Mahal. It also supports the economy of UP. This is truly made in India. Therefore, people will only laugh at him and his complete ignorance of history and importance of preserving the beauty of Taj Mahal.”

After the omission of Taj Mahal was highlighted, former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav retweeted an older video by the then UP government, titled ‘Uttar Pradesh – Home of the Taj’.

Defending itself over the backlash, the UP government issued a press release on Monday, stating that the state government has allotted Rs 156 crore for schemes catering to Taj Mahal.

“Tourism projects worth Rs 370 crore are proposed, under which schemes worth Rs 156 crore are meant for the Taj Mahal and its surrounding areas in Agra,” the release read. The proposal for the projects have been prepared in consultation with the World Bank and submitted to the Union government for approval, which is expected within the next three months, the release read.

Speaking on the exclusion of the Taj Mahal in the booklet, Avanish Awasthi, Director General, Department of Tourism of UP Govt, told The Indian Express that the booklet just included a few of the projects by the state and was in no way a reflection of the complete list of tourism projects.

In June, listing achievements of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, Adityanath had said foreign dignitaries visiting India were now being given copies of Gita and Ramayana instead of Taj Mahal replicas. “Foreign dignitaries visiting the country used to be gifted replicas of the Taj Mahal and other minarets which did not reflect Indian culture,” Adityanath reportedly said.

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