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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Taj Mahal: Unnecessary controversy

By

The Milli Gazette Online 

Lucknow: Lafz mein dil ka dard sama do lafz ghazal ban jayega /.Paththar ko aansoo de do to Taj Mahal ban jayega….These are the words of Saghar Azmi, and if put into English would make ‘Taj Mahal a tear of a lover which has solidified into a marble.’ Imagine India and Taj Mahal, the monument of love built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan (1627-1658), comes synonymous. 

This brand ambassador image of India, which was started in Agra in 1631, two years after Shahjahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal died and was completed in 1653, is right now under threat! Not due to the cruel environment or the high level pollution but out of political showmanship between the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) government and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

It became an issue when Hafiz Mohammad Usman, the newly appointed chairman of UP’s Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB), announced that the High Court has directed SCWB to probe the claim of Taj Mahal being a Waqf property and present the findings in court. Hence, SCWB sent notices to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) asking it to furnish proof that its claim about the Taj Mahal is genuine..! Usman says that a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Irfan Bedar of Firozabad in the high court praying that the Waqf Board should be directed to register Taj Mahal as a waqf property. The PIL has claimed that the Taj Mahal is a waqf forcibly acquired by the ASI.

Hafiz Usman, who is considered close to Mohammad Azam Khan, UP Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister, wasted little time to claim to be having a proof that Shahjahan had willed Taj Mahal as a waqf property and that the SCWB is in possession of a book Badshahnama by Maulana Mohammad Ahmad in which it is clearly stated that the Taj is a waqf property, and since the board obviously has the ownership of graveyards and Taj being a graveyard too qualifies to be a waqf property. Hafiz Usman let his grouse spilt against ASI which he said has usurped only Muslim buildings and has never touched any Sikh or a Christian building. He said that Shahjahan willed it is a waqf for the welfare of Muslims but the ASI is filling its kitty with the billions of rupees of revenue generated by the Taj Mahal. If the Waqf Board registers Taj then it can claim an income of 7 percent from Taj Mahal revenues as it does with other waqf properties administered by others. It may be mentioned here that according to Tourist Statistical Data, UP, 1997, Taj Mahal had attracted the highest number of foreign tourists (0.626 million) in India and the government had earned 2,2520.78 million rupees from UP out of 11,263,900 million from all over the country. 

Soon Shias staked their claim of ownership. Khurshid Agha, an advocate, demanded through an application that the Shia Waqf Board should take control of the mausoleum as Arjumand Bano alias Mumtaz Mahal was a Shia and it was prepared by Uncha Khan Shirazi, a Shia engineer of Iran and that there is a ‘panja’ atop its tomb and many graves in the vicinity have ‘panjatan pak’ inscribed on them. The Shia claim, however, could have been important had Arjumand Bano got it built herself and not instead of it been built in her memory. 

As if the in-house squabbling was not enough, BJP on the last day of assembly session in Lucknow (March 22) dubbed the monument as Tejo Mahalya temple dedicated to Lord Shiva! BJP MLA Laxmi Kant Bajpayee raised the issue in the state assembly and demanded a commission, headed by a Supreme Court judge no less, to go into the historical details of the monument.. He said that the Sunni board’s claim is baseless because Arjumand Bano was a Shia and SCWB should not come into picture. LK Bajpayee also took the opportunity to put forward the long desire of RSS of calling Taj Mahal a Hindu temple. He quoted from PN Oak’s “book” Taj Mahal - The True Story as well as pseudos like PS Bhat, Al Athwale, Stephen Knapp, Marvin H Mills and Bulbul Pal who claim Taj Mahal to be a Hindu monument.

Azam Khan finally took the stage and compared Babri Masjid with Taj Mahal. He drew a parallel that those who filed an affidavit in SC not to harm Babri Masjid and deceived the apex court are the same fascists who want to bring the same fate to Taj Mahal. "Today SCWB is fighting the case of Babri Masjid and who would be the party in court if Taj Mahal meets the same destiny as that of Babri Masjid," he said. 

The BJP has now announced the claim for Taj as a Hindu temple to be their issue in the upcoming civic pools due to be held in Agra later this year.

ASI sent senior officers to the Sunni board’s office on April 4 to inspect the documents in possession of SCWB. The SCWB will pronounce its stand on 19 April. The Board in fact should in the mean time study the Supreme Court orders regarding Taj Mahal as well as about the properties managed by the ASI before passing an order regarding Taj Mahal. If the board decides to go ahead and interfere with the ASI management then the matter is bound to go to SC where a PIL has already been pending for long filed by MC Mehta in which SC has been issuing orders from time to time regarding the management, maintenance and preservation of Taj Mahal since 1984.

The Board needs to have a cue from the Fatehpur Sikri case decided by SC in which the apex court had given orders to evict the shops of Waqf Board situated inside the premises of Dargah which also contains a mosque. The board’s contention was that since the shops were serving the needs of visitors to Dargah they need not be evicted but the SC said that since it has been declared a ‘world heritage’ the shops should be removed," informed Zafaryab Jilani who represented SCWB before justice Kuldeep Singh and Justice Saghir Ahmad in SC. 

The Apex Court is extremely sensitive towards Taj Mahal as there are about a dozen of orders passed in an year in its context. Lately even the UP government could not allow the night viewing of Taj before the SC passed strictures. Only a naïve person will think that the SC will offer a ‘world heritage monument’ to the Sunni board when it has already punished the same in Fatehpur Sikri case. Moreover, the board will also have to formulate a legal strategy to situate itself in context to a property declared as a ‘protected monument’ under The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904 much before the enactment of the Waqf Act in 1936. the Board will need to answer whether such a property could be claimed after 100 years!

"All these aspects should be thoroughly looked into before making any declaration because board cannot go against SC and any decision by SC may adversely affect other waqfs as well all over India," cautioned Jilani

The Board has added to the cannon fodder of communal politics of BJP. After all who can forget that in October 2001 during the two-day conclave of BJP youth wing around 50,000 saffronites had stormed into the Taj Mahal. They had bathed and urinated inside the fountain-duct used by worshipers for wudu (ablution). Saffron flags were hoisted, Jai Shri Ram was scribbled with pen knives on the main mausoleum and the hooligans danced inside the mosque! All this went on in the presence of AB Vajpayee and LK Advani, then prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively.
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