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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

Wah Taj? Woe, Taj!: Overwhelmed by hatred, the symbol of love now a reason behind buried businesses

According to an estimate, the controversies surrounding the Taj Mahal have adversely hit tourism and other businesses in Agra by about 40 per cent in the last 10 years

Piyush Srivastava Agra Published 21.04.24, 06:09 AM
Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal File image

They said you either love the Taj Mahal or you are wrong. But of late, one of the modern world's seven wonders has been vilified by a section of the right-wing ecosystem out to erase any trace of Mughal history and heritage.

The Taj Mahal has fallen from grace and many have, over the last few years, struck it off their must-visit list. The agony, however, has not been brought upon itself by the majestic mausoleum. It’s New India’s latest gift of hate for the symbol of love.

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Collateral damage? The city of Agra, that once welcomed some of the richest and most powerful personalities in the world.

According to an estimate, the controversies surrounding the Taj Mahal have adversely hit tourism and other businesses in Agra by about 40 per cent in the last 10 years. This angers the businessmen here. The traders meet every week to discuss the problems faced by the hotel industry, the foundries, and the units manufacturing leather products but they leave without a solution.

“In the last few years, there has been a substantial dip in footfall of foreign tourists. They used to come to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, a monument of brotherhood between the Hindus and the Muslims. But some people started doing absurd things here against the mausoleum. It made news across the world and those living abroad got disillusioned. They don’t want to spend money on seeing a disputed site. They came here to see the monument of secularism, the culture of togetherness between different religions. Why would they be here knowing these things are a past now?” asked Sandeep Arora, a hotelier who has a property near the 17th-century monument.

Sources said that according to a survey, businesses in Agra are witnessing a downturn of roughly 30-40 per cent ever since the “Hindutva band of boys” started protesting near the Taj Mahal arguing that Shah Jahan's Taj was a Hindu temple to Lord Shiva that was “perhaps built in the 4th century to serve as a palace” by a certain Raja Paramardi Dev.

Many Hindutva groups have since then organised protests here demanding that the property should be handed over to the Hindus. Some of them have moved courts without evidence to back their claims. This continued despite courts warning litigants to stop wasting their time.

“But that’s not all. Getting a glimpse of the Taj has become more complicated now. Tourists have to walk from one corner for tickets to another corner to enter the monument. The management has recently sketched a longer route for people to walk up to the mausoleum. Visitors get tired after the long walk and lose interest in the city after seeing the Taj. Most of them travel via Delhi to Agra and leave for Jaipur within a few hours. Earlier, they would come here for a week and stay in our hotels but they don’t spend money here now. We played with their emotions by dragging the Taj into religious conflicts and they left us silently,” said Arora, adding: “Politics was never so cruel in our country.”

Sachin Saraswat, the director of International Institute of Fashion and Art and a member of National Chamber of Industries and Commerce, had another take on the dip in business in Agra.

“Foundry was the main industry here but most of the units were shut down because they emanated pollution. What is left is the leather industry where the producers are not doing well because the government has imposed hundreds of restrictions in the name of no-objection certificates. Some exporters are comfortable with this arrangement because they bring finished products from other places,” said Saraswat.

“It was good to see Ayodhya being rebuilt, Varanasi getting a transformation but why is Agra being ostracised? Why isn’t the government planning something for this place?” he asked.

Though Agra is part of the Golden Triangle (Jaipur-Delhi-Agra), tourists don’t stay the night here.

“There is nothing apart from the Taj Mahal to hold them back here. Though some prefer to visit Fatehpur Sikri (an hour’s drive), most return to Delhi or go forward after a few hours of visit to Agra. Again, many tourists don’t come here these days because they have limited time and there is no regular airport or flight connectivity from important cities. There are some hopping flights but they are expensive,” said Saraswat.

“We have given several presentations to the government but nothing was done. The problem was not so acute in the past decades. The situation turned sour in the last 10-15 years. There was no effort made to improve the purchasing power of this city and thus people have little to spend here. Of late, two malls were opened but both didn’t run well. Even the petha industry is in bad shape because the cooking gas pollutes the air here. Many petha units were forced to shut down without any alternative place offered to them.”

“The government did so much for Varanasi, Ayodhya, and Mathura but left Agra to die its own death. Our children don’t want to stay here. Very soon, Agra will be a city of the elderly,” he said.

Saraswat informed that actor Sanjay Khan had planned to open a theme park in Agra. “In 2018, he was looking for 1,000 acres of land but nobody knows why the UP State Industrial Development Corporation (UPSIDC) didn’t cooperate with him even after acquiring some land,” Saraswat said.

Atul Kumar Gupta, the chairman of National Chamber of Industries and Commerce, too doesn’t have high hopes for the city.

“If the government doesn’t want industries here because of the Taj Mahal then it should open an IT hub. The UPSIDC had acquired some land during Akhilesh Yadav’s regime for Sanjay Khan’s theme park. This land can now be handed over to someone for an IT hub,” said Gupta.

He said they have also proposed to the state government to develop Bateshwar, the ancestral village of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the lines of Statue of Unity in Kevadia, Gujarat. It is also a sacred place for Jain tourists. “But the government didn’t act on it,” he said.

“The idea is to hold tourists here for two to three days. But nobody in power shows any interest in it. Our demand for a regular airport fell on deaf ears. If they can start cruise ships in the Ganga in Varanasi for the amusement of tourists why can’t they plan a similar thing in Yamuna here?” he asked.

Requesting anonymity, a reputable industrialist of Agra, narrated two incidents to break the situation down for better understanding.

“We recently met chief minister Yogi Adityanath and proposed many things for Agra to improve its tourism and economy. In the end, he said, ‘Plan something for Mathura and I am ready. But don’t talk to me about Agra’. After that, we don’t hope Agra to change,” he said.

He added: “A few years ago, a Korean couple decided to get married here. A guide arranged it in Dhanupura village with our support. The news appeared in some newspapers and suddenly foreigners started pouring in here to get hitched. We decided to develop an infrastructure in Dhanupura to provide them with every facility. Then one day, policemen reached there and asked the foreigners and the guide whether they had permission to arrange such events. We all knew what they wanted but we didn’t heed their demands and the police booked six Indians for breach of peace. The foreigners stopped coming here even to tie the knot,” said the industrialist.

Agra votes on May 7

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