Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath arrived here on Thursday, a visit seen as a damage control exercise.
He will visit the Taj Mahal where a cleanliness drive has been organised at its western gate.
Here are the 10 facts on the same:
- This is Yogi Adityanath’s first visit as Chief Minister, to the monument that has drawn tourists and celebrities from across the world. He had skipped the Taj Mahal when he first visited Agra in May but it had mostly gone unnoticed.
- He is expected to spend 30 minutes at the Taj Mahal built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, visit the Shah Jahan park and launch a project to develop a tourist pathway from Taj Mahal to Agra Fort.
- “The Chief Minister will be visiting all the places inside Taj Mahal,” Awanish Awasthi, chief of the state government’s Tourism Department said. The Chief Minister is also expected to speak about the state’s Rs.370 crore-development plan for the city and the proposed international airport at Agra.
- The visit was announced last week in the middle of an acrimonious back-and-forth over the monument between BJP leaders and the opposition.
- “It does not matter who built it and for what reason; it was made by the sons of Bharat Mata. It was built by the blood and sweat of Indian labourers,” Yogi Adityanath said about the architectural marvel built by an army of 20,000 workers over 22 years.
- This statement was seen as a course correction. At a rally in Bihar this June, the saffron-robed Chief Minister had commented on how previous governments at the Centre gave tiny models of the Taj Mahal to visiting foreign dignitaries. The monument “does not reflect Indian culture”, he said.
- A few months later, when the Taj Mahal went missing from his government’s tourism brochure, there was a backlash from the opposition. In the words of Congress’ Abhishek Manu Singhvi, it spoke about “a clear religious bias which is completely misplaced”.
- BJP lawmaker Sangeet Som, who has been earlier accused of inciting communal violence, hit out at the government’s critics, saying the Taj was built by traitors. “What history are we talking about?… He wanted to massacre Hindus. If this is history, then it is very unfortunate and we will change this history, I guarantee you,” Mr Som had said at a rally in Meerut.
- A prominent figure in the campaign for a Ram temple in Ayodhya, Vinay Katiyar, also waded into the controversy, saying it was built on the ruins of an ancient Shiva temple and should be renamed as “Tejo Mahal”. A Haryana minister later called it a beautiful graveyard.
- The row has worried thousands in Agra who depend on tourist arrivals to the western Uttar Pradesh city, a few hours away from the national capital. According to government statistics, every fourth foreign visitor to the country visits the Taj but there has been a decline in the number foreign tourists to the white marble mausoleum widely considered one of the world’s seven wonders.