How to turn a magnificent monument into a trite property dispute
Man thinks he can correct time because whenever he looks into the past there is nothing but remorse and regret.
But time is inviolate and histories can be rewritten but not unmade. We saw that with the destruction of the Babri Masjid and it is now neither temple nor mosque, certain to be no man’s land for generations.
And now we are witness to conflicting claims around another monument which represents India in every imagination anywhere, the Taj Mahal. It is a tomb, a very expensive and beautiful one, but nothing more than that.
No one chooses not to go see the Taj on account of not being a Muslim. And yet, over the last few weeks, the Taj’s ownership is beginning to deteriorate into a Hindu-Muslim issue.
When the Uttar Pradesh BJP President Laxmikant Bajpai says that the Taj was part of an ancient temple, then you might stare open-mouthed, but it doesn’t mean the claim will go away.
Say something loudly at a particular point in time, the echo will travel until so many people are repeating it that it becomes ‘history’. Disputed, no doubt, by an equal number, but now it is a problem that arbitrators will resolve instead of a ridiculous utterance of a scheming politician. And we, who are witness to the first spark that lit the fire, will not even appreciate the moment.
How can a rational human being make such a claim? The answer is another venal politician, Azam Khan, a Samajwadi Party leader. A couple of weeks earlier, he had demanded that the Taj Mahal be handed over to the UP Waqf Board. India is a country that has cultivated encroachment into a fine art, but this was still an attempted land grab of such breathtaking ambition that you had to admire it.
He is the Waqf Minister of the state and given that politicians find it difficult to differentiate between personal and state property, it was simply him wanting the Taj Mahal.
When Bajpai claims that a temple has first claim on the Taj, he is drafting a history that he believes is an answer to something threatening in the present. And you could even see his point of view if not for the fact that it is completely irrelevant. Because what does the land have to do with why the Taj is so magnificent? The land’s value must have been nothing compared to the resources put in to create the monument; almost like a hydel dam project in today’s terms.
On Monday, Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi posed a question in the House on who owns the Taj. He didnt get an answer.
He is a man who does not favour the monument being turned over to the UP Waqf Board. But the import of the question is interesting because it assumes that the answer to the problem will boil down to a property dispute.
This is how the Babri Masjid dispute is also being addressed at present. But can it ever be possible that a civil court will decide who should collect rent on the Taj? Normally, you would think it an absurd possibility. But in this country, you never know.