Indian government sidelines Taj Mahal for its Islamic past

Taj Mahal
Updated 08 October 2017
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Indian government sidelines Taj Mahal for its Islamic past

NEW DELHI: The government of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has come under fire for omitting the Taj Mahal from its annual tourism brochure, released on Oct. 2.
The stunning white marble mausoleum, commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, is widely considered one of the seven wonders of the world and attracts millions of visitors annually. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the country’s largest political party, which leads the UP government under Hindu nationalist Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — has stated that “the Taj Mahal and other minarets do not reflect Indian culture.”
The 32-page booklet recently released by the UP Ministry of Tourism neglects to mention the UNESCO World Heritage Site at all, instead giving prominence to sites of significance to the Hindu religion.
Sanjay Jha, a spokesperson for the opposition Congress party, told Arab News, “This is symptomatic of a deeper ideological mindset. It is the manifestation of BJP’s resentment toward India’s history. The fact that Indian history has a significant Mughal presence is disturbing to those who are wedded to extremist Hindu ideology.”
“According to the BJP and its paternal organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Muslims in India are foreigners,” historian D.N. Jha said, adding that he believes Adityanath and the BJP are “undermining the Islamic heritage of India.”
Certainly, they seem intent on promoting Hindu culture and history. A few months back, Adityanath pointed out that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes on an official state visit, or receives foreign dignitaries at home, he presents the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana — both major Hindu texts — as a gift.
Rajeev Saxena, the president of the Tourism Guild of Agra, described the omission of the Taj Mahal from the tourism brochure as “immature and foolish,” adding that the site “doesn’t belong to UP and India — they are just custodians.”
Saxena told Arab News, “The government is attacking the tourism economy and violating the mandate of the people.”
Sanjay Sharma, president of the Tourist Guide Federation of India, agreed. “A monument which is part of the bread and butter for not only the people of Agra but for millions of people in UP… how could the government think of ignoring it?” Sharma said. “Fanaticism has blinded the government.”
Avanish Awasthi, the UP government’s secretary of tourism, argued that “adding Hindu sites to the brochure does not mean the Taj is being ignored.”
He pointed out that the government is developing areas around the site and has increased the budget for the upkeep of the monument itself.
“The booklet is not a guide to tourism,” he said. “It is just information about new places.”


Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

Updated 51 min 8 sec ago
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Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

  • Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook
  • Piracy and armed robbery against ships remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year

KUALA LUMPUR: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation when they met for the first time in Putrajaya on Monday.

The meeting took place at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office, where both strongmen “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

“President Duterte likewise renewed the commitment to further strengthen defense and security cooperation at the bilateral and regional level,” according to a statement from Duterte’s office.

The two neighbors have enjoyed a good relationship despite the change of government in Malaysia, as the over-60-year rule by the National Front coalition ended abruptly during Malaysia’s elections on May 9.

Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally, although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook since he was put in power for the second time in May.

The newly formed government led by the world’s oldest leader, Mahathir Mohamad, has vowed to restore the “rule of law” in Malaysia.

Duterte pointed out in his statement “the need to address terrorism and violent extremism in the region, as well as transnational crime such as piracy and armed robbery at sea and the illegal drug trade.”

Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year.

Southeast Asia has become a hotbed for Daesh-inspired terrorist activities and threats, and Duterte and Mahathir reaffirmed the need to boost the security and defense ties of both nations in the Southeast Asia region.

Malaysia’s state of Sabah is facing kidnapping threats from the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

In 2017, a large-scale kidnapping plan in Sabah and Central Philippines was uncovered by military intelligence.

The same year, Marawi was under siege from Daesh-inspired militants. The Philippines declared Marawi “liberated” from terrorism. The aftermath cost 1,000 lives with more than 350,000 people in the city displaced.

Meanwhile, Malaysia played an important role when it became the third-party broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.

“President Duterte expressed appreciation for Malaysia’s sustained support for the quest for the just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” his official statement said.

Both leaders stressed the need toward “working closely together bilaterally and at ASEAN” in a region of more than 500 million where “greater stability and security in the region” is of the utmost importance.

The two countries are quietly in a land-lock over an 1878 land lease agreement on Sabah since the Federation of Malaysia was officially formed in 1963. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ long-standing claims over Sabah were off the plate during the bilateral discussion between Duterte and Mahathir.

On Sunday night before the meeting, both strongmen enjoyed watching the fight between Philippines’ world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and Argentina’s fighter Lucas Matthysse.