It was intended to be a massive exhibition of Mughal-era armour, clothing, culture, and relics. But if you walk the red sandstone-roofed Shilpgram Road to the Taj Mahal’s east gate, past the stone sign that reads “Mughal Museum,” and approach the adjacent iron gate, you will enter a long-abandoned dream.
Since over six years, the three-story structure on the 5.9-acre complex, 1,300 metres from the Taj’s east entrance, remains incomplete. More than two dozen costly cassette-style air conditioners are rusting in the open air, contributing to the dystopian atmosphere. A craft market, conference room, and art gallery were planned for the facility. The craft market hall is filled with rainwater; shrubs have grown around it; and the stones and tiles of the seminar hall, which is now a home for stray dogs, have become loose in numerous places.
A large yellow banner flying from the entrance announces the structure’s new name: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum. This banner presides over this desolate environment. And instead of chronicling any Mughal beauty, the famed edifice would highlight the history of Braj Mandal, where it is claimed that Lord Krishna was born and spent his youth.
Since the BJP seized control of the state, the desire to rename roads, parks, monuments, etc. in Agra has skyrocketed; several have already been renamed (see What’s in a name?). Jagan Prasad Garg, a former MLA for the BJP, has written to the Prime Minister urging that Agra be renamed Agravan. Upon the request of GS Dharmesh, the BJP MLA of Agra Cantt, Deputy Prime Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya renamed the Jama Masjid station as Mankameshwar on May 4 while reviewing the metro project.
A vast number of roads and parks have been renamed by the BJP administration in an effort to strengthen its political capital. Since last November, the iconic Mughal Road in Kamla Nagar has been renamed Maharaja Agrasen Road. To woo Jat votes, the administration changed the name of Teramauri, a 76-acre state park near Fatehpur Sikri, to Gokula Jat Park on January 6, just before the 2022 assembly elections. In addition, a life-size statue of Gokula Jat is being constructed here. The Gokula Jat peasant army confronted the Mughal army at the Battle of Tilpat in May 1666.
Obviously, the most controversial is the push to rename the Taj. Shobha Ram Rathore, a BJP councillor of the Agra Municipal Corporation, recommended on August 31 that the marble mausoleum be renamed Tejo Mahalaya. He states, “There are various causes for this.” “The monument was named for an international traveller. The present designation is a misspelling of Tejo Mahalaya. No graveyard in the world is related with the term “Mahal.” However, the proposal could not be considered in the House due to a conflict between BJP and Bahujan Samaj Party councillors. “The idea will be taken for debate at the next session of the House,” adds Mayor Naveen Jain, despite the fact that renaming the Taj Mahal is beyond the corporation’s purview. Rathore plans to force the proposition from him once more.
Former national general secretary of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Ramji Lal Suman, asserts that the BJP administration is attacking Mughal-era monuments. In the past five years, the government has performed no development activity in this area. It has only altered the names of streets, parks, and landmarks.” For a city that was once the capital of the Mughal empire and is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Taj Mahal (which alone attracts approximately eight million visitors annually), Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri, the wave of name changes is nothing more than an attempt to rewrite history. “Rather of prioritising activities of public importance,” argues Shiromani Singh, the only Congress councillor in the corporation, “the corporation has renamed more than 50 roads and intersections in Agra during the past five years.” However, the situation has not yet altered.”
And nothing better exemplifies this than the transformation of the Mughal Museum into the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum. In January 2016, the SP administration led by Akhilesh Yadav broke ground on the state’s largest and most technologically advanced project on the Power House premises. December 2017 was the deadline for the Rs 141 crore project. The main building was constructed in the first year for a cost of Rs 99 crore, which hastened construction efforts. In March 2017, a government led by Yogi Adityanath and the BJP took power in Uttar Pradesh, marking a shift in the state’s leadership just one year later.
Later, a refusal of funds halted work. The government renamed the museum in September 2020 in honour of Chhatrapati Shivaji. However, as a building engineer, he states, “The name was altered, but the money for its development was not disclosed. Tata Projects, a construction business, abandoned the project as a result. During this period, however, the cost rose to Rs 186 crore.” Deepak Dan, president of the Tourist Guides Welfare Association in Agra, states that they anticipated a quicker completion of the building work following the name change, but the work has not even resumed.
The administration of Yogi, which returned to power in March 2022, is now debating a form of public-private collaboration for the museum. However, the project will be redesigned beforehand. Dilip Singh, project manager of Rajkiya Nirman Nigam, the governing body overseeing museum building, states: “We have informed the government of the project’s current condition in a letter. As soon as the budget is received, construction will commence.
However, not everyone in Agra approves of the name change initiative. “The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s wonders,” says Rajiv Saxena, vice president of the Agra Tourism Union. It is disgraceful to engage in politics in the name of a UNESCO- and Supreme Court-protected monument. This is damaging India’s reputation.” KC Jain, a lawyer at the Supreme Court and secretary of the Agra Development Foundation, concurs: “In the past five years, the government has not permitted a single new hotel in the city, while issues are being sparked that are unrelated to the Taj Mahal. This exacerbates the situation in the tourist sector.”
In reality, several development plans have been halted. Among these is the rubber check dam conservation project for the Taj Mahal. In 2017, Chief Minister Yogi announced the construction of a dam 1.5 kilometres downstream of the monument on the Yamuna. Unidentified irrigation department official: “For a long period, the project oscillated between bombing and rubber dam before the government approved the latter option.” It was projected that Rs 413 million would be required to construct the 344-meter-long dam in Nagla Paima hamlet. In the 2018-19 budget, the government allotted Rs 50 crore, followed by Rs 6 crore in 2019-20 and Rs 100 crore in 2020-21. Therefore, Rs 156 billion is lost since the job could not begin. During the current fiscal year, the government has allocated 20 crore rupees towards the dam. According to Tarun Sharma, associate professor of history at Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Agra, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has specified that the Yamuna behind the Taj Mahal would have a water level of 148 metres. This would ensure that the monument’s foundations continue to get moisture, which is essential for its preservation. However, building is beset by repeated delays, which baffles environmentalists.
The irrigation department responded on August 26 to an RTI request from environmental activist Debashish Bhattacharya that they had permission to construct the dam from the Waterways Authority of India, the Central Water Commission, ASI, and the National Institute of Environmental Engineering Research. Earlier in April, the Taj Trapezium Area Authority, which is responsible for safeguarding the site, approved the construction of the dam. The State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority has not yet evaluated the proposal, however. This is further delaying authorizations from the Union Environment Ministry and the National Ganga Cleanup Mission. South Agra Minister of Higher Education and Member of the Legislative Assembly Yogendra Upadhyay said, “Construction will shortly commence.” Increased efforts have been made to get NOCs from all departments.” He has also requested that the prime minister eliminate barriers to the building of a number of further projects. Until then, progress will remain a captive of political necessity.