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Sonia to Digvijay: Consult religious leaders on '84 bill

Sonia to Digvijay: Consult religious leaders on '84 bill

Shahid Faridi
The Asian Age
April 12, 2000
Title: Sonia to Digvijay: Consult religious leaders on '84 bill
Author: Shahid Faridi
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: April 12, 2000

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has asked Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh to convene a meeting of religious leaders of the state to discuss the Religious Places Act passed in the state in 1984 under Mr. Arjun Singh's chief ministership.

Mr. Digvijay Singh has been directed to find out from religious leaders if there is a need to make any changes in the act.

A decision by the incumbent Ram Prakash Gupta government to enact similar legislation in Uttar Pradesh has created a stir, with a number of political parties, including the Congress, terming it an attempt to undermine the freedom of minority communities to freely practice their religion, including building places of worship and centres of religious education.

The Asian Age had on Tuesday reported how the Uttar Pradesh bill bore similarities to the law enacted by Mr. Arjun Singh's government in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh over 15 years ago. The first example of this kind of legislation was much earlier, in Rajasthan in 1954.

Soon after the UP bill was passed by the two Houses of the state legislature and sent to President K.R. Narayanan for his assent, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi wrote to the President asking him to withhold his assent.

Speaking to reporters here on Tuesday, Mr. Digvijay Singh sought to differentiate between the UP bill and the Madhya Pradesh law, saying, "The intentions of the BJP government in UP are suspect. Even before the law could come into force in that state, the state government has started raiding minority institutions. In contrast, there have been no problems in Madhya Pradesh due to the legislation passed by our government in 1984. Still, we have decided to consult religious leaders to make sure that no new meanings are read into the act." Mr. Singh ruled out scrapping the legislation.

He said a few days before asking the President to withhold his assent to the Uttar Pradesh legislation, the Congress president had convened a meeting of senior party leaders, including AICC minorities department chairman Arjun Singh and himself, to discuss the law in Madhya Pradesh.

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