In recent years, the Taj Mahal, India’s iconic monument to eternal love, has taken a beating. Its attendance figures are down. Air pollution is slowly turning its ethereal white marble yellow.
And now, to make matters worse, some in India feel that a staunch Hindu nationalist government recently elected in the Taj’s home state of Uttar Pradesh is starving the world heritage site of funds and support because it was built by Muslim invaders.
The state’s new chief minister, the saffron-robed Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath, set the tone early on when he lamented at a rally that tiny models of the Taj Mahal are often given to visiting foreign dignitaries, saying the monument “does not reflect Indian culture.”
The Taj, the country’s biggest tourism draw, was not allotted any cultural heritage funds in the state budget for the coming year. And in a blow that provoked yelps of protest from India’s opposition party, the monument was omitted from the state’s official tourism brochure last week.
Adityanath’s government countered criticism by saying that the state, supported by funds from the World Bank, had slated $22 million to the monument for new gates, beautification and a multilevel parking structure.
“The Taj Mahal is the seventh wonder of the world. It has always been a priority not only for Uttar Pradesh but for the entire country of India,” said Awanish Awasthi, Adityanath’s principal secretary. “It will always be central to all our tourism policy but there were some other new projects we wanted to feature.”
The Adityanath government has focused on promoting places such as the ancient city of Varanasi, a site for Hindu pilgrims, and Gorakhpur, where he is the chief priest of a large temple, critics have said. The previous state government had launched plans for a Mughal museum and an orientation center at the site, but it is unclear whether those will be fully funded going forward, Saxena said.
“Government programs have to be backed by the annual budget. If there is no allocation in the budget, it will die a fast death,” he said.