The Big Story: Hindutva trumps development

In 1977, when the United States launched the Voyager spacecraft, it included 115 images of life on Earth. One of them was of the Taj Mahal. In case the ship was intercepted by aliens, the Americans who launched the Voyager wanted them to know that Earth contained a building as magnificent as the Taj.

In Agra, the actual home of the Taj Mahal, however, this wonderment seems to be fading a bit. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal dynasty that ruled a large part of the subcontinent from the 16th century to the 19th century. Since the Mughals were Muslim, almost anything associated with them has come under sharp attack in an India in which Hindutva nationalism is on the ascendant.

On Tuesday, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad removed a steel gate installed by the Archaeological Survey of India claiming that it blocked the way to a temple. This was done even as the Archeological Survey of India had made sure to create an alternative path to the shrine

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is part of the Sangh Parivar, a famil of Hindutva organisations under the patronage of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This network includes the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

This is not the first time Hindutva supporters have displayed an antipathy to the Taj Mahal. In 2017, Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Adityanath, attacked the mausoleum as not being Indian enough. That same year, A BJP MLA called the Taj a “blot on Indian culture”.

Yet, physically attacking a part of the Taj complex signifies an escalation. Part of this might have to do with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in the first half of 2019.

The Lokniti-CSDS-ABP Mood of the Nation Survey published a fortnight ago has some troubling portents for the BJP. The Modi government is as unpopular today as the United Progressive Alliance government was in July 2013 – nine months before it crashed to a defeat. Over the last year, says the survey, the BJP’s popularity has dipped by seven percentage points. Over 60% of voters characterise the Modi government as corrupt and key segments such as farmers, Dalits and Adivasis are angry. The Modi government’s stock has dipped sharply in western India, as well as in the South and East.

Moreover, the BJP has lost a string of bye-polls. Of these Kairana Lok Sabha bye-election in western Uttar Pradesh was crucial. The BJP had won it in 2014 in the backdrop of the 2013 Jat-Muslim riots. However, in May 2018, economic issues such as the price realisation of crops completely overshadowed communal acrimony and the BJP lost the seat.

Against such a backdrop, a sharper focus on issues of Hindutva identity – from the Taj Mahal to the manufactured controversy about Jinnah’s portrait in the Aligarh Muslim University – might unfortunately be the template for 2019.


  • Killing of well-known writer and secularist, Shahzahan Bachchu, is a grim portent in an election year in Bangladesh argues this edit in the Indian Express.
  • Four out of five Indians will still be Hindu even when Muslim population peaks, points out Sachin Mampatta in the Mint.
  • Pakistan may be headed towards an election that is compromised, writes Mehmal Sarfraz in the Telegraph.


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