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Political tussle mars Taj fete
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi |
September 29, 2004 18:59 IST
An enduring symbol of love has sparked off a bitter power struggle in New Delhi and Lucknow.
The Taj Mahotsav -- a festival commemorating the 350th year of the monument built by the 17th century emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal -- is at the centre of ego clashes both within the government and outside. The lack of coordination between the Centre (read the Congress) and the Uttar Pradesh government was, however, the chief dampener.
The festival took off with a ceremony at the Agra Fort on Monday evening. The first blow came in the afternoon when the Supreme Court refused to allow the authorities to conduct the celebrations near the World Heritage monument without a clearance by the Archeological Survey of India and security agencies.
The Uttar Pradesh government had sought permission to organise cultural programmes on the banks of river Yamuna, behind the Taj Mahal and adjacent to the monument's Mehtab Bagh during full moon nights in the next six months commencing September 27. Taj Mahal is said to look most beautiful on full moon nights, when the white marble of the monument bathed in moonlight appears silver.
Later in the evening on Monday, when the Taj fest started in the Dewan-e-Aam of the Agra Fort, it resembled a regional affair rather than an international one. The event was aimed at projecting the Taj globally and the celebrations were named "International Taj Festival". The inauguration of the festival was strategically planned on World Tourism Day.
It was considered to be the first gala celebration since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government assumed power at the Centre about four months ago. However, the political equations in Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is situated, skewed things a bit. The UP government is run by an uneasy alliance of Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and the Congress. The effect of this was seen in the conduct of the programmes on Monday.
The special invitees to the much-hyped event included former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee, P V Narasimha Rao, I K Gujral, H D Deve Gowda, Chandrasekhar and V P Singh. But none of them could reach there to witness the inauguration of the festival. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had returned from his foreign visit the same day, so he could not make it. None of the four Union ministers – who were part of the Group of Ministers formed to organise the six-month festival along with the Uttar Pradesh government – could make it to Agra. Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh is the head the GoM along with the tourism, culture and environment ministers and the UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav as members.
Tourism Minister Renuka Chaudhary organised a three-hour musical programme in the Purana Qila (built by emperor Sher Shah Suri) in New Delhi parallel to the celebrations in Agra on Monday. The invitees were Culture Minister Jaipal Reddy, foreign diplomats, hoteliers, restaurateurs and media persons. The cultural programme -- an inflorescence of several Indian classical dances -- was followed by dinner and cocktail.
While Jaipal Reddy left the function immediately after the inauguration, his colleague Renuka Chaudhary was unable to explain her absence in Agra. After repeated requests by the journalists, she said: "There are no differences between the Centre and Uttar Pradesh government. We are doing it jointly."
When asked why none of the Union ministers could make it to Agra, she said: "I cannot speak for the others but I thought I should be present here. Today is World Tourism Day and I wanted to celebrate it here." She denied any confusion in the GoM. "I have been given dates to organise programmes in November and February (near Taj Mahal in Agra). You will see mine will be the best."
However, there is more to it than meets the eye. There was a tussle between the ministers over who would head the GoM. The Prime Minister's Office stepped in the last minute to resolve the issue and asked Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh to take over as chief.
But Singh was least interested in the festival and left for a 10-day visit to Geneva late August. The first meeting of the GoM had to be postponed till the first week of September. The ministers met just once before the festival began on September 27.
Though the festival was planned in advance, the Uttar Pradesh government petitioned the Supreme Court for holding the cultural programmes near the world heritage monument only last week. The petition was taken up for hearing on the day of the inauguration of the festival. Incidentally, the petition lacked basic documents such as an environment impact report.