Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath visited the Taj Mahal on Thursday, days after some members of his Bharatiya Janata Party questioned its heritage and place in India’s history.
Adityanath reached the Kheria technical airport in the morning, and took part in a cleanliness drive near the Western Gate of the Taj Mahal. He visited the main mausoleum shortly after noon, with crowds greeting him with chants of “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
“Taj Mahal was built by the blood and sweat of Indian labourers. The onus of its security & preservation lies on our shoulders,” the CM said.
“Everyday 40,000-50,000 tourists come to Agra, if we can provide them adequate security, the number will rise to 2.5 Lakh – 3 Lakh.”
His comments on security came within hours of reports emerging that a Swiss couple was brutally assaulted in Fatehpur Sikri nearby.
The CM stayed at the Taj Mahal for about 45 minutes, spending time at the Mughal museum as well.
Adityanath highlighted his government’s development initiatives for Agra and hit out at previous state governments, accusing them of practising divisive politics. He said his government’s efforts are not aimed at benefitting any caste or religion but the entire state.
“Only those people are raising questions over my Agra visit are who have divided the society on the basis of castes,” news agency ANI quoted him as saying.
In recent months, several colleagues of the chief minister have spoken out against the Unesco world heritage site, which draws crores of rupees in annual revenue. The first among those were by Adityanath, who in June said the ivory-white marble mausoleum didn’t represent “Indian culture”.
BJP’s controversial Sardhana legislator Sangeet Som triggered a political slugfest by describing the monument of love as a “blot” on India’s culture and saying it was “built by traitors”. Som’s comments were followed by BJP member of Parliament Vinay Katiyar’s statement that it was originally a Shiva temple.
Their statements drew widespread criticism, including by many from the party.
The state government was also criticised after the annual budget for 2017-2018 made no mention of the Taj Mahal in the special section ‘Humari Sanskritik Virasat’ (Our Cultural Heritage) incorporated in the state finance minister’s 63-page speech.
However, in a significant departure from his earlier remarks, Adityanath called the Taj Mahal the “pride of India” and referred to it as a “world class monument” during a rally in Gorakhpur recently.
Adityanath will be the first BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh to visit the monument and it is his second to the city after taking over as the chief minister. He is likely to stay in Agra for about eight hours.
Security stepped up
More than 14,000 policemen were deployed across the city for Adityanath’s visit, a senior police officer told news agency Press Trust of India.
Four helipads were set up in various parts of the city and traffic diversions were made.
“The monument (Taj Mahal) is open for tourists and the entry will be allowed as per the routine process. The security has been stepped up,” he said.
The chief also went to the Nangla Paima village and visited the rubber check dam and toured Kachhpura village.
According to his schedule, Adityanath was set to spend half an hour at the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal and visit the Shah Jahan park nearby.
Adityanath will also inaugurate various development projects in Agra, according to an official spokesperson.
Akhilesh Yadav was the last Uttar Pradesh chief minister at the Taj Mahal when he visited with his wife Dimple more than two years ago on Valentine’s Day. He sat on one of the benches in front of the monument with his wife, who is also the MP from Kannauj.