The challenge to the Indian-ness of the Taj Mahal is a challenge to the Indian-ness of Muslims—a consistent theme in BJP rhetoric. In June, Adityanath remarked, “Foreign dignitaries visiting the country used to be gifted replicas of the Taj Mahal and other minarets which did not reflect Indian culture.” He praised Modi for instead gifting copies of the Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, sacred Hindu religious texts. Sangeet Som, a BJP politician, called the Taj Mahal a “blot” on India built by “traitors,” adding, “Taj Mahal should have no place in Indian history” as Shah Jahan “wanted to wipe out Hindus.” He even warned that, “If these people are part of our history, then it is very sad and we will change this history.” Hindutva proponents have even argued the Taj Mahal was originally a 12th-century Hindu temple built by the Maharajah of Jaipur, with its name a distortion of the original Sanskrit, Tejo Mahalaya, meaning “The Great Abode of Tej” (a name for the Hindu God Shiva).
While the BJP government has acknowledged the architectural wonder’s value as a tourist destination, its potential future hangs in the balance, given Hindu nationalism’s growing popularity and political power. Shamsul Islam, a professor at Delhi University has said that the Taj Mahal’s very existence is now in danger. While the specter of Hindu mobs destroying it is an unlikely one, Islam recognized that the Taj Mahal could be permanently damaged through deliberate neglect as air and water pollution take their toll on the ancient structure.
Yet this fear is no mere hyperbole. Hindu nationalists have long targeted Islamic buildings and other historic sites. For example, a survey found that 230 Islamic historic sites were vandalized or destroyed, many reduced to mere rubble, during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the 1992 razing of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, which resulted in communal rioting around the country that led to nearly 2,000 deaths. Hindu nationalists have argued that the mosque, constructed in the 16th century by the Mughal Emperor Babur, was built over a destroyed Hindu temple, a claim contested by scholars, near the site traditionally considered to be Lord Rama’s birthplace. On December 6, 1992, leaders of the BJP, alongside fellow Hindu nationalist groups Vishva Hindu Prashad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, gathered outside the mosque to offer prayers, followed by a mob of their followers breaking through the security barrier and, piece by piece, pounding the ancient structure to the ground with sledgehammers. The site has been a source of controversy in recent years—in 2005, Islamic militants attacked the makeshift Hindu temple that had been built on the mosque's ruins with an explosives-laden jeep.
In the wake of this attack, the Allahabad High Court upheld the argument that a temple structure pre-dated the mosque and ruled in 2010 that the site should be divided into thirds between the Muslim community, the Hindu community, and the Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu sect. However, in the following year, the Supreme Court suspended their decision, maintaining the site’s status quo. The Supreme Court is set to hear appeals to the High Court 2010 decision beginning in December 2017.