The credibility of the much-hyped campaign to vote the Taj Mahal as one of the world's new seven wonders is now in question.
"The New 7 Wonders of the World" campaign has been launched by the owner of a Swiss website. "The whole campaign is a media hoax," says Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society here. "How can the whole government machinery be used to hype a campaign launched by a private entrepreneur?"
Sudhir Kumar, the Agra chief of the Indian government's tourism department, admitted that the campaign was a private one and those supporting it were doing so in their private capacity.
"The campaign is not backed by any government agency, though we feel it is good and in the interest of the tourism industry as a whole to promote the Taj Mahal," Kumar told IANS.
K Mishra, a senior official in the Uttar Pradesh tourism department, said his office had nothing to do with the campaign.
KK Sharma of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) here described the campaign as "economic exploitation of the sentiments of the Indian people. No two monuments are alike and they should not be compared.
"It is an injustice to the status and dignity of the Taj Mahal."
But the ASI has circulated banners and pamphlets appealing to people to vote for the Taj though this initiative has reportedly been taken by its Bhopal circle.
The tourism industry has been promoting the campaign in its own interest. Several government agencies and voluntary groups have also got involved.
District Magistrate Mukesh Meshram headed a procession this week to mobilise votes for the Taj.
Mughal historian R Nath says the whole campaign is uncalled for. "The Taj is already a taj (crown). It needs no certification from any authority."
The people on the street here do not know who has promoted the campaign, but think it is the government. One hotelier said: "We thought it must be a government-supported campaign since the district authorities were taking so much interest."
Unesco, which runs the World Heritage Programme, has denied that it has anything to do with this campaign.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)