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No place for hate under the Taj

The Taj Mahal has become yet another point of contention between communalists from both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide. Speaking to reporters, Uttar Pradesh minority affairs minister Azam Khan said that the world-renowned monument should be handed over to the central Waqf board, since it holds the tomb of two Muslims, namely 17th century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Lucknow Eidgah Imam Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli also added fuel to the communal fire and said that Muslims should be allowed to offer prayers at the Taj Mahal.

In response to these statements, president of the Uttar Pradesh BJP unit Laxmikant Bajpai sought to exacerbate the communal row by claiming that it was part of an ancient temple. He also alleged that the Uttar Pradesh minister has usurped property under the state waqf board and was now eyeing the world heritage Taj Mahal. In the larger context of history, the absurdity of this exchange of communal rhetoric comes into sharp focus. Unlike the Babri Masjid, the Taj Mahal was neither built as a place of religious worship nor does it exist as one even today.  The world-renowned marble monument was built under the authority of 17th century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, as a symbol of his love to third wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in child birth.

The current exchange of hate-filled rhetoric surrounding the ancient monument is a reminder of yet another communal conflict that revolved around the demolition of a 16th century mosque in 1992. On  December 6, 1992, a large crowd of Hindu fanatics entirely destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in an attempt to reclaim the land known as Ram Janmabhoomi or the mythological birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. The politically motivated demolition had sparked religious violence across India, in which approximately 2,000 people died. Politics in India has never been the same since the events of December, 1992. Prior to every election in India, the emergence of communal tensions has become the norm, in a bid to divide the populace for greater political mileage. It is clear that the demolition has left a dark stain on Indian politics. Though India’s secular fabric ultimately withstood this assault, the attempt to divide the nation on communal lines continues to play on, and the Taj Mahal has become its latest symbol.
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