By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, Oct 20 (IANS) Tourism industry leaders in Agra have welcomed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s decision to visit the Taj Mahal, which is seen as a damage control exercise after a series of controversial statements by politicians on the 17th century marble wonder.
Adityanath’s visit to Agra on October 26 will help soothe frayed tempers in the city, said tourism industry players.
BJP MLA Sangeet Som had stirred controversy last week when he called the Taj Mahal a blot on Indian culture, while some other right-wing politicians have said the Unesco World Heritage Site visited by millions was not representative of the Indian socio-cultural ethos.
Bodies representing guides, travel agencies, hotels, have threatened agitation at the “continued downgrading” and “motivated insults” targeting Agra.
Mughal historian Prof R. Nath has in a series of letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Adityanath asked politicians not to distort history and base judgments on “gossips”. Agra Tourism Welfare Chamber president Prahlad Agarwal said “a campaign to deny Agra its rightful share and recognition as the country’s chief destination has hit the tourism sector badly”.
Talking to IANS on Friday morning, some tourism industry leaders hoped the Chief Minister’s visit would put the controversy to rest.
Rajiv Saxena, secretary of the Guides Association, said “The Chief Minister’s visit is perfectly timed.”
Senior tourism industry leader Surendra Sharma said the visit will surely help ease the charged atmosphere.
Leaders of the handicrafts industry, already under pressure of economic slowdown due to GST, have appealed to politicians not to “foul up the scene by pointless statements that have no basis in history”.
Lakhs of people are earning their livelihood from tourism, and the latest figures show that the Taj Mahal continued to remain number one in gross annual earnings, said Sandeep Arora, president of the Tourism Development Foundation.
Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel Associations of India, said unnecessary controversies relating to the Taj Mahal had affected sentiments and hit the tourism sector which has not been looking up for the past three years.
The questions relating to the origin of the Taj Mahal, as also the P.N. Oak theory that the monument was a Shiva temple, have been cropping up at regular intervals. “The Hindu backlash actually began after the Archaeological Survey of India failed to stall a deliberate process of communalisation of the monument by allowing people to hold prayers and organise religious activities,” senior guide Ved Gautam told IANS.
Meanwhile, authorities have drawn up plans to spruce up the area around the Taj Mahal which the Chief Minister is likely to visit. Barricading of the 10-km stretch from the Kheria airport to the Taj Mahal has begun along with extensive road repair work.
District Magistrate Gaurav Dayal said Adityanath would be reviewing some projects under the Pro-Poor Tourism scheme, and will also launch a few infrastructural projects in Agra and Mathura.
Adityanath last visited Agra on May 7, walking the dirty and controversial Taj Corridor in the afternoon sun, to discuss plans for Yamuna rejuvenation. However, nothing much followed.
(Brij Khandelwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)