Hindu nationalists are up to their fascist antics yet again, this time in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India. Sangeet Som, a lawmaker from the the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed at a political rally on October 16th that the revered Taj Mahal was a “blot on Indian culture” built by depraved traitors and tyrants. The remarks came after there was an outcry over the Taj Mahal’s removal from UP’s latest official tourism booklet. UP is, like the nation itself, currently run by a BJP government under the chief ministership of a documented extremist and Islamophobe, Yogi Adityanath.
Som’s statements could perhaps be dismissed as ridiculous, ahistorical rambling if he weren’t so dangerous. He, like Chief Minister Adityanath, has been exposed numerous times, and even charged, as an instigator of communal violence. Som was implicated in the 2013 “riots” in Muzaffarnagar, UP for spreading a fake viral video that contributed to tensions that ultimately exploded into violence, largely targeting Muslims. At least 40,000 people were displaced into refugee camps in the aftermath.
Fascists like Som make these spurious, inflammatory claims to stoke tensions and rile up their base of supporters. This is a phenomenon we see play out globally on a regular basis. The Taj Mahal is a particular obsession of Hindu nationalists, though. Just days after Som made his comments, BJP MP Vinay Katiyar rehashed an old revisionist claim that the Taj Mahal was originally a Hindu Temple to the lord Shiva called Tejo Mahalaya. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) even had to debunk this claim yet again this August in response to a petition filed in court by six lawyers arguing that Hindus who worship Shiva should be allowed to conduct poojas inside the Taj Mahal since it was actually a Hindu Temple before those pesky, intolerant Mughals stole it.
The Mughals are an integral part of the history of the subcontinent; their reign was long and their rulers varied. While the first emperor Babur and his entourage did invade and conquer lands in what later became British India, their descendants were just as “native” to the land as their subjects, whatever that means in a region of the world characterized for centuries by its extremely mobile, roving population. It’s also totally misleading to imply, like these claims about the Taj Mahal do, that the Mughals were some insular, fanatically religious dynasty. The Mughals’ vast imperial bureaucracies and networks of alliances encompassed people from many religious backgrounds, including Hindus, and some of the dynasty’s most famous rulers, like Akbar, were actively curious about other traditions and religions.
What it comes down to are these basic truths. Hindu nationalist fanatics and hate preachers like Som, Katiyar, and Adityanath simply cannot accept the reality that Muslims have a rightful current place and deep history in India. They have already proven that they will stop at nothing to erase Muslims from the social and political fabric of Indian society. They have been working at this task for decades. Nowadays they have the benefit of spewing their hatred in a country run by a political party that has long endorsed such stances, explicitly and implicitly. This kind of rhetoric is designed to marginalize and endanger already vulnerable people, and must be called out and combated at every turn.