History courted the e-Age in Lisbon on Sunday when Sweden-registered NGO, New7Wonders Foundation, released the new list of the Seven Wonders of the World. The foundation, which organised a worldwide online and SMS poll, claimed that 90 million people participated in the process. The Taj Mahal along with the Great Wall of China, the ruins of Petra in Jordon, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, the Chichen Itza in Mexico and the Coliseum in Rome were the top choices. Understandably, the reaction to the result has been diverse. While Indians celebrated the inclusion of the Taj, Egyptians are livid at the non-inclusion of any of its monuments. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) disassociated itself from the event, saying there is nothing in common between its World Heritage List and this private campaign.
Despite the buzz and the hype, competitions like these serve little purpose. Instead of tackling the main political and conservation issues that dog heritage structures across the world, these voting processes end up equating heritage structures with national boundaries. So you have the media egging Indians to vote for the Taj and Mexicans for Chichen Itza — a sort of American Idol/Indian Idol for monuments. Then there’s the contentious matter of voting rights and the commercial angle. While online voting was made free, it only allowed one vote per person. The other option was to pay international rates and vote by phone or SMS. Those keen to cast multiple votes were told to register for a further vote online, by purchasing a ‘certificate’ at $2 a pop. A Mexican newspaper correctly commented: “It’s quite a fresh way of earning money.”
As far as India is concerned, another round of focus on the monument of love is hardly any cause of celebration. The Taj is one of the better-kept monuments in the country. We need funds for the other equally precious monuments in the country that the Archeological Survey of India is struggling to preserve in the face of babudom, lack of expertise and funds. We need the government and private parties to pitch in money not only for the upkeep of these national treasures but also to sensitise and educate the public on how to protect these treasures. There are thousands of monuments, forts and museums, which when stitched together, can give us a complete view of our past. And that is why we need to take a much larger view of the treasures we have, instead of focusing on one particular monument.