Taj Mahal part of India’s heritage, we’re proud of it: Tourism minister Alphons
Union tourism minister KJ Alphons’ remarks came amid a political slugfest triggered by Sangeet Som, the controversial BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, after he described the 17th century monument as a ‘blot’ on India’s culture .india Updated: Oct 22, 2017 09:21 IST
Taj Mahal is a part of India’s heritage and people are proud of it, Union tourism minister KJ Alphons said on Saturday, quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks earlier this week that a country cannot progress if it is not proud of its heritage.
The minister’s remarks came amid a political slugfest triggered by Sangeet Som, the controversial BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, after he described the 17th century monument as a “blot” on India’s culture because it was ordered built by emperor Shah Jahan who imprisoned his father. That statement, denounced by opposition parties and public intellectuals, was also incorrect because it was Shah Jahan who was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb. A day later, senior BJP leader Vinay Katiyar waded into the controversy, saying the Taj was originally a temple to Lord Shiva called the ‘Tejo Mahal’.
“The hon’ble Prime Minister had the last word (on this issue). He said we are very proud of our heritage. Taj is part of our heritage,” Alphons said in an interview to Hindustan Times.
“We have made it very clear that we are very proud of Taj. It’s a star tourist destination in India,” he said, refusing to get drawn into his party colleagues’ statements.
The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, is among India’s top tourist draws but has received a barrage of negative comments from senior BJP leaders, including UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath who said last June that the ivory-white marble mausoleum didn’t represent “Indian culture”.
Alphons, a bureaucrat-turned-politician who was inducted into the NDA government last month and given independent charge of the ministry of tourism, spoke on a range of issues. He reiterated the Central government’s stand to divest its shares from ITDC-run hotels, saying “the government has no business to be in business”. The minister suggested that hotel Ashoka in the national capital might stay with the government.
“I guess Ashoka hotel (in the capital) cannot be sold for the simple reason that it is worth thousands of crores. I don’t think any hotel chain would be able to buy it. So, obviously, we would possibly keep that property. How we are going to run it is a different issue on which the Cabinet will take a call.
“We are in the process of divesting other hotels. We are not even calling it disinvestment because in all the cases we are transferring them back to the state governments because the land belongs to them.” Alphons, however, added that no decision had yet been made.
Alphons spoke of the country’s heritage and philosophy that draw foreign tourists. Talking about the “variety” India offers in terms of art, music, textiles, and culinary, Alphons said, “If you go abroad, you find the food pretty boring, I mean in most countries. They have the same dishes- steak, steak and steak. In India, every district has its own huge culinary tradition.”
The minister, who had earlier said tourists could fulfil their desire to eat beef in their own country before coming to India, maintained that it was for each state to decide their eating or drinking habits. “Why should the government of India dictate it?”
Asked if demonetisation had any bearing on the tourism sector, Alphons said, “As per our calculation, domestic tourism has not really come down. People are travelling a lot. Their number is increasing at a very, very healthy rate.”