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The Taj defies BJP myths

FOR the world, the Taj Mahal is a thing of beauty and joy forever.

The Taj defies BJP myths

Watch out: Needless controversies will only alienate the minorities.

S Nihal Singh

FOR the world, the Taj Mahal is a thing of beauty and joy forever. It is one of the great wonders of the world attracting millions of tourists. Yet for the Sangh Parivar it represents an unwelcome phenomenon.

The Modi government has promoted RSS ideologues to historical and research organisations in furiously rewriting history to obliterate some 800 years of Muslim rule. And some BJP governments in the states have already rewritten textbooks to denigrate, if not eliminate, Muslim rulers and glorify Hindu kings and fighters.

The essence of the problem is simple. In the tales the Sangh Parivar has spun of ancient India’s greatness for their followers — an era in which planes flew and head transplants were common — the 800 years of Muslim rule sticks in the throat. The Parivar does not have the same hostility to British rule. In fact, it played an ambiguous role in the Congress-led Independence movement and one of its former members murdered the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

The Sangh Parivar can rewrite history but it is helpless in the face of the marble memorial of a Mughal king to his wife. Mr Sangeet Som, a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh who has flirted with at least one other party before finding his home, in a public speech decried the monument as a “blot on Indian culture”, alerting at least one Muslim organisation to the danger of the Taj meeting the fate of the Babri Masjid. Imagine the worldwide outcry any harm to the Taj would cause. Yet Mr Som thought he was only amplifying the disdain of the state CM, Yogi Adityanath, who had suggested that the monument was not part of Indian culture.

There were other straws in the wind. An official UP tourism booklet omitted the Taj in its list of attractions. For the Sangh Parivar, the Taj’s rightful international fame was anathema. So Mr Som, who thought he was doing his duty to decry it, set off a chain reaction, with the Hyderabad MP Owaisi, not one to miss an occasion, asking Mr Modi to stop unfurling the national flag on Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort, another Muslim-built edifice. And at least one other Muslim legislator suggested that by the same logic Parliament House and Rashtrapati Bhawan should be demolished because they were built by India’s conquerors.

Realising that India was becoming the laughing stock of the world, the Modi government did a rhetorical about turn, suggesting that the Taj was part of Indian heritage and “no country could move ahead without pride in its culture”. This was in effect a weak endorsement of a fault line in Parivar politics. After all, it was Mr Modi who, in a public speech opening a new wing of a Mumbai  hospital, had endorsed the myth of head transplants in ancient India.

Others tried to backtrack in their own way. The redoubtable Yogi Adityanath said the monument had been built by the sweat and blood of Indian labourers, and any number of BJP functionaries holding official positions came out with their condemnation of Mr Som’s assault on the Taj and a new UP Government calendar includes the Taj in its fold.

Yet the Parivar’s dilemma on expounding the Hindu rashtra and the purity and virility of the Hindu race remains unresolved. Many nations edit history to present themselves in more flattering ways and while medieval Indian history will become unrecognisable if the BJP rules for long, the ego of the Parivar will take India to many fanciful lands.

There are no short answers because of the starry heights the Parivar is taking the country in spreading its myths. If the wonders of modern science were commonplace practices thousands of years ago in India, as attested by Mr Modi, what is the point of pursuing modern science or computer technology today? And if this is the mindset of the present leaders of the country, what will the very young in schools learn?

If the starting point of the inquiry is skewed, where will it lead the country? The Parivar has the right to its myths, but as the stupid controversy over the Taj reveals, it could prove to be a road to disaster. One cannot rule a diverse country of India’s size by myths. Yogi Adityanath’s indulgence in Ayodhya by enacting scenes from our epic tale is harmless if expensive. But how can a country be ruled in the 21st century on the basis of superstition?

We are still waiting for an answer from Mr Modi. How does he reconcile computer technology with the fiction of his own and the Parivar’s beliefs? Or are they to inhabit in separate compartments and if so who will be the arbiter of bringing them together without colliding?

Thus far the RSS chief, Mr Mohan Bhagwat, has been careful to offer “suggestions” to the government of Mr Modi. The latter knows full well the force of these “suggestions”, having been reared in the RSS family. The Taj and the ferocity with which Mr Som has made his point restricts the room for debate in the RSS family. If Muslim rule per se is evil, what’s there to debate?

The best that can be said about the Parivar is that it is struggling to navigate in a world that does not conform to the worldview created by its myths. Granted that Muslims ruled India for 800 years followed by the British, there were inherent defects in the Indian character and circumstances that made these historical events possible. Instead of tracking Indian weaknesses, the Parivar’s rule is to glorify Hindu rulers and fighters.

Perhaps Mr Modi wants to wait until 2019 before trying to bring some order or logic to the irreconcilable nature of Parivar myths with the modern world. He hopes to win the next general election and then plans to seek a new direction to proceed with an enduring dilemma. 

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