President Donald Trump has been in India the past two days, and his visit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making a whole lot of news — most of it of the ridiculous sort.
“‘I have never seen him eat a vegetable:’ Trump braces for a beef-free menu in India,” an article on CNN was titled.
“Trump’s host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has gone out of his way to generate an elaborate reception for the President, including hosting a massive rally in the world’s largest cricket stadium and arranging a tour of the Taj Mahal (the real one, not the namesake Atlantic City casino that Trump once owned),” the piece, published Sunday, read.
“But Modi is a devoted vegetarian and plans to serve vegetarian food to the President, according to people familiar with the planning. Trump will sit for several meals with Modi when he’s in India, including a lunch and a formal banquet Tuesday evening at ornate Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official presidential palace in Delhi.”
Apparently, Trump is such an inveterate creature of habit that he can’t even stomach vegetarian food (“he once had steak twice in a day while abroad,” the piece notes).
When chronicling the minutiae of the president’s trip to the world’s most populous democracy, however, most missed some other details — particularly his visit to the “monument of love,” the Taj Mahal. (And yes, “not the namesake Atlantic City casino that Trump once owned,” because apparently we needed to throw that in for all three of us who couldn’t tell the difference.)
According to the Times of India, the graves of two major historical fixtures at the monument had been cleaned for the first time in 300 years ahead of Trump’s Monday visit.
“Authorities at the Archaeological Survey of India had ‘advanced the dates’ for mud-pack treatment for the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and wife Mumtaz Mahal at Taj Mahal in view of US President Donald Trump’s planned visit to the famed mausoleum on Tuesday, an official said,” according to the Press Trust of India.
“The red sandstones of the Taj complex are being cleaned of stains from weather, fountains have been spruced up and extra stock of shimmering flowers added in gardens to enhance the glory of the monument,” archeologist Vasant Swarnkar said.
Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal, and it’s seen primarily as a corporeal document of the love between Jahan and Mahal, who died giving birth to the couple’s child.
“We have already done the mud-pack treatment of the two royal graves. It is done with ‘multani mitti’ [clay] and takes a couple of days,” Swarnkar added. “After the treatment, it is cleaned with distilled water. It was done in the last few days.”
The Taj Mahal itself has received the treatment five times, but this is the first time the graves have been included. The tombstones themselves are replicas.
Trump didn’t visit the actual graves, according to NDTV, because security advised him that the low, narrow passage to them would be problematic with his 6-foot-3 height. As Newsweek noted, however, the replica graves are much more ornate.
The Washington Post said Trump described his visit to the Taj Mahal as “incredible, truly incredible.”
So, all right, the cleaning of the graves got a bit of coverage. What didn’t get much play was that the fixtures never got that treatment for Barack Obama.
It’s worth noting that Obama technically visited the mausoleum, but that wasn’t to say he didn’t plan to visit the monument in Agra, roughly 120 miles from the Indian capital of New Delhi. During a 2015 visit to India, a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site was scrubbed at the last minute; according to the Times of India, this was due to security concerns.
However, the visit was scuttled just a few days before it was scheduled to happen — and the cancellation wasn’t something long in the pipeline, either.
“It is rather unusual to cancel this Agra leg of Obama trip as the US pre-advance team visited Agra in December which was followed by visit of advance team last week & joint security drills as late as yesterday,” the Times of India reported.
The point is that, no matter how distant the years of the Obama administration might feel to you, it still wasn’t 300 years ago. And, lo and behold, the Indian government didn’t feel the need to clean the replica graves at that point.
They did now, which is somewhat telling.
Granted, U.S.-India relations are more important now, particularly given Modi’s tenuous position on the world stage. Eight have been killed as of Tuesday in riots over his controversial citizenship bill, which critics claim is biased against Muslims, according to Quartz.
That said, Modi was prime minister in 2015 as well and has always been a controversial figure in Indian politics. Unlike now, he still had to worry about re-election at that point. The PM’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was recently re-elected with an overwhelming majority, so he doesn’t quite have to worry about that anymore.
Either way, it’s telling how India viewed both presidents when they scheduled visits to the “monument of love.”
It certainly beats talking about food, and it certainly counteracts the narrative that Trump has eroded respect for the United States.
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