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Since 1st March, 1999
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After temple, BJP eyes township

Lucknow, Aug. 5: The BJP has seized on a little-known proposal of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government to set up a minority township near Ayodhya as it tests issues for one that could fire up the Opposition.

In its budget this February, the state government unveiled plans to set up the colony of 3,000 houses, spread across five acres. Five hundred houses are to be built in the first phase, to be completed by the end of 2006.

At the time, the proposal went unnoticed. But after five months, the BJP today raked up the issue in the Assembly, disrupting proceedings and forcing a debate, and threatened to launch a struggle. The BJP offensive came after a meeting of state leaders yesterday.

In New Delhi, the party’s central leadership, which has been groping for an issue after the campaigns against Shibu Soren and reservation for minorities in Andhra Pradesh fizzled out, denounced the township plan. But it said a decision on whether the BJP would launch a campaign would be taken after party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu meets state leaders on Saturday.

As soon as the Assembly met this morning, the BJP’s Lakshmi Kant Vajpayee raised the issue, saying the state government has embarked on the path of appeasing minorities again.

Barely had he finished when other BJP leaders joined in, demanding a statement from the government. Some members trooped into the well and shouted slogans. The protests disrupted question hour. The speaker later allowed a discussion on the subject.

During the one-hour debate, the BJP labelled the scheme “dangerous”. Opposition leader Lalji Tandon said: “In a democratic country, people are free to live wherever they want to but a special colony for minorities in a place like Ayodhya bears ominous portends. It is unconstitutional and divisive.”

In his reply, minister for parliamentary affairs Azam Khan retorted: “If you can build homes for the backwards and economically weaker sections, why cannot you build homes for minorities'”

A senior minister, Ambika Chowdhary, iterated that 3,000 houses would be built. “The Faizabad Development Authority has been entrusted with the scheme,” he said.

The FDA, which confirmed that it received the government order recently, has tentatively decided to name the colony Aman Town. It is in the process of acquiring land and has identified a plot in Sultanpur Basera village adjacent to the Ayodhya-Faizabad Road, about 4 km from Ayodhya, official sources said.

“These are going to be single-storey independent houses for hire by minority community members. There will be schemes for outright sale or for letting out on rent at a variable market rate,” an official said.

The BJP has of late turned up the heat on the Mulayam Singh government, accusing it of “failures” on the law and order front, “anti-farmer” policies, failing to contain inflation and allegedly rigging the Lok Sabha elections.

The Samajwadi Party accused the BJP of trying to unnecessarily whip up a controversy. A party source said that since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the large minority community in the town had been running scared. Many had left the town and now about 100 families reside on the outskirts of Ayodhya, he said.

“It is a part of social justice to give them homes,” said a Faizabad-based party worker.

The move appears to have the support of the Congress, which said: “The project is apparently not ill-intentioned.”

But there are doubts about how many Muslims would be willing to stay so close to the “temple movement command area”.

In Delhi, party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “Announcements of this kind will exacerbate the existing social tensions in Uttar Pradesh.”

“We won’t allow this to come up by any means,” said Kesrinath Tripathi, president of BJP’s state unit. Party leaders said their protest would soon spill on to the streets, possibly hoping that Ayodhya would once again play saviour to the BJP.

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