Taj Mahal, a monument to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s love for his queen Mumtaz Mahal, has been placed at the centre of a turf war. What has long been evoking wonder as a masterpiece of world heritage has caused surprise in the wake of sectarian claims over its rightful ownership. Uttar Pradesh Muslim Waqf minister Azam Khan recently demanded the Sunni emperor’s Taj Mahal be declared a property of the State Waqf Board, eliciting similar claims from the Shia community on account of Mumtaz belonging to their sect, reported india.com.
Khan, a senior Samajwadi Party leader, argued that the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that houses the bodies of a Muslim emperor, who also got the structure built, and his beloved wife, according to dnaindia.com. He said that the monument should be handed over to the Sunni Waqf Board, as the board maintains control over Muslim sites of burial and a large number of graves, reported the Times of India. “Every mausoleum is a waqf, so the Taj is also a waqf property,” he said.
Endorsing Khan’s demand, clerics of the Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband also called for Muslims to be granted permission to offer prayers at the mosque inside Taj Mahal five times a day. Placing the sects at loggerheads, the assertions have led the Shia community to demand the Taj Mahal be given to the Shia Waqf Board. “The Taj Mahal should be handed over to the Shia Waqf Board as, Mumtaz Mahal, whose real name was Arjumand Bano, was a Shia,” said Syed Faiyyaz Haidar, president of the Lucknow-based Imam-e-Raza committee, reported the Indian Express.
The Taj Mahal, which is looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), generates a whopping INR20 million per annum through entry fees alone, the highest revenue for any monument in the country. Commenting on the recent skirmish, a former official of the ASI’s Lucknow division, CB Mishra, said, “Is the Taj Mahal a monument or a cake? Should it be distributed between whoever lays claim to it?” He added, “Without dispute, the Taj Mahal belongs to the whole country. It is pointless to declare it as belonging to a particular group.”
Interestingly, Khan, who has now demanded the ownership of Taj Mahal, made an antithetical statement about the monument last year. Referring to the mob attack on the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, he said that had the Taj Mahal been targeted in place of it, he would have himself led them to demolish the monument. He cited the waste of public funds by Shah Jahan by making the mausoleum when people were dying of starvation during his reign as the reason behind making the statement.
This polarity could make Khan’s recent comments be viewed as nothing more than incendiary rhetoric, an attempt at demagogy so as to escalate tensions with the Centre ahead of the 2017 UP Assembly election. His remarks have also caused Twitter frenzy, with ‘#WahAzamWah’ trending on the microblogging website. A tweet read, “#WahAzamWah Azam Khan should realise Taj Mahal is not his buffalo, he can’t milk it for his benefit!”
Amid the ongoing scuffle, historians have criticised Khan for what they view as a publicity stunt. “The Taj Mahal is a monument of national importance and it comes under the ASI,” said historian Nayanjot Lahiri, reported the India Today. ASI additional director general BR Mani said, “The Taj Mahal cannot be handed over to the Waqf board. These are heritage sites of great significance and [their handling] needs expertise, which the board doesn’t have. They cannot take care of a heritage site of Taj Mahal’s significance.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2014.
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