Voters urged to keep Taj on list of 7 wonders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2007, 12:00am

'If you have ever been in love, vote for the Taj,' is the message being beamed from TVs, radios and billboards across India.

The reason for the campaign? The country is in danger of seeing its national monument slip out of contention in the huge global poll now under way to decide the new 'seven wonders of the world'.

With two weeks to go until results are announced, Indians are being urged to stir from their lethargy and vote, by SMS, telephone of the internet.

The Taj Mahal was in the top seven when voting began, but lacklustre voting over the past few months has seen it slip in the top 10, along with Greece's Acropolis, Mexico's Chichen Itza pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, Easter Island, Brazil's Statue of Christ the Redeemer and Jordan's Petra.

The contest organisers, a private Swiss company called New Seven Wonders Foundation, has since closed real-time rankings, apparently to avoid the sort of surges in voting India is trying to create.

But national pride can be a powerful force. In the port city of Surat, in the western state of Gujarat, a shoemaker has told his 2,000 workers to vote. In the city of Agra, where the Taj is located, more than 200 Muslim women marched carrying placards urging residents to vote. Some workers are even sporting haircuts that mirror the outlines of the Taj.

And parked outside the 17th century monument - built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of love for his wife Mumtaz - is a van with an internet connection where tourists can vote.

But the media agency handling the voting rights for India, I Media Corp, is concerned time is running out to push the Taj up the list.

'We're going to tell people it's now or never. We can't miss this chance,' said Ripubaman Bhatnagar, I Media's vice-president.

Mr Bhatnagar has to mobilise India's 170 million mobile-phone users and those with computer access - one in every 50 Indians.

Bollywood stars are to make emotional appeals soon.

The only organisation that is indifferent is the government.

Mr Bhatnagar is dismayed at its insouciance. 'The governments of all the other countries are actively promoting their monuments but ours doesn't seem to care,' he said.

Property dealer Ashwani Puri is indignant at the apathy.

'It took 20 years to build the Taj Mahal and give us a monument that's put India on the map but the government can't even devote a few days to make sure that Indians vote. It's pathetic,' he said.