The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mayavati wins museum battle with Sonia

Lucknow, April 11: After winning a byelection in Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi, chief minister Mayavati won another battle against Congress members when Allahabad High Court gave her government the go-ahead to build an Ambedkar museum on land earlier earmarked for the Indira Gandhi Pratisthan.

The Lucknow bench of the high court yesterday turned down Uttar Pradesh Congress members’ petition to stop the takeover of the land, but asked the state government to provide an alternative plot for the Pratisthan in Lucknow.

Announcing its verdict on three public interest petitions, the bench of Justices Jagdish Bhalla and Kamal Kishore said it could not interfere in the policy decisions of the state government. “But we direct that the government shall make available 25 acres of land instead of the 10 acres for the old project and additional fund for the same,” the court said.

The more than double plot size that the Pratisthan will now get has given the Congress members something to lessen their discomfort. Though the verdict seemed to fall short of the expectations of the party, which had insisted that the old land be restored to them, they treated the court directive about provision of additional land and funds as a victory of sorts.

“Certain observations made by the court in its 28-page order tend to support our charge that the Mayavati government’s move was politically motivated,” said Akhilesh Prasad of the state Congress committee’s legal cell.

“We find it difficult to believe that the old project was shelved on the grounds of non-availability of funds but, surprisingly, there was no dearth of funds for the construction of Ambedkar Udyan,” the judges said.

For the Congress, the Pratisthan land had become a prestige issue when Mayavati decided to annex it and merge with the Ambedkar Memorial complex for construction of the Ambedkar museum. It launched a statewide agitation for restoration of the land and rejected her offer of land at an alternative site. “Our battle is not for a piece of land but to defend the honour of the Nehru-Gandhi family,” said the state Congress chief.

Arun Kumar Singh Munna.

While they organised half-hearted protests throughout the state, some advocates filed three petitions in the high court and obtained a stay on the construction of the museum on the disputed land.

The final verdict on the case, announced last evening, found Uttar Pradesh Congress members too embarrassed to react. “We did not file these PILs. Therefore, it is not our defeat. We cannot comment on it unless we study the court order in detail,” said Congress leader Jagdambika Pal.

The issue is to come up at the next meeting of the state Congress on April 15, but senior party leaders feel the party should accept the alternative land the government may allot following the court’s directive.

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