New Delhi: The Congress party Wednesday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of attempting to polarise voters in Uttar Pradesh by raising sensitive religious issues such as the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and an abolition of triple talaq.

The accusation was levelled by the party’s leader Gulam Nabi Azad at a meeting called in Lucknow by the party to release its manifesto for elections in India’s most populous state that start this weekend.

The party’s state chief Raj Babbar was also present during the release of the 12-page manifesto which promised a new law on hate crimes to provide enhanced punishment to those who create tension on the basis of caste, gender and religion.

Azad demanded that the Supreme Court and the Election Commission take note of the BJP’s mention of the Ram temple and triple talaq in its manifesto.

In its manifesto, the Congress, which is fighting assembly elections in the state as the junior partner of the Samajwadi Party, tried to appeal to voters of the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class communities, and vowed to provide free legal aid for them besides appointing a facilitator to help Dalits file cases if it came to power (in alliance with the Samajwadi Party). It also promised to create a diversity commission and a so-called Vikas Mitra (or development officer) in every administrative block.

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The manifesto also promised the creation of three women-only police stations in each district of the state, a police ombudsman, 50% reservation for women in panchayat elections, Rs50,000 to Rs1 lakh for a young woman when she turns 18, and scholarships for women pursuing higher studies.

In a bid to provide employment to the youth, the party said it would launch the Uttar Pradesh Skills and Employment Mission to train and find jobs for 5 million young people over the next five years.

The Congress also promised a loan waiver for farmers and a 50% reduction in their electricity bills. Other farmer friendly measures in it include the creation of state-of-the-art warehouses and cold storages, the development of food processing industries, and the launch of crop- and livestock-insurance schemes.

Condemning the BJP’s policies as anti-poor and anti- people, the manifesto pitched the Congress- Samajwadi Party alliance as an alternative.

“Divisive forces run rampant with impunity across the country...To combat these forces our two great parties (Samajwadi Party-Congress) have allied," the manifesto said while describing the coming together of the two parties as “an important moment" in the history of Indian politics.

Reacting to the Congress’s manifesto, BJP said that the party was silent on corruption, poor law and order situation and illegal mining in the state, issues that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had raised during his Deoria-to-Delhi Kisan Yatra and Khat Sabha.

“What happened to the party (Congress) now? Has it forgotten these issues? Or has it totally surrendered itself before Samajwadi Party, against whose government it was making vitriolic attack until recently,?" said BJP state general secretary, Vijay Bahadur Pathak.

“Despite being in coalition, both parties have maintained their identity. It is a strategy to have independence on important issues. It is a strategic alliance to get votes from the minorities and other backward classes," said Bidyut Chakraborty, political science professor at Delhi University.

The Samajwadi Party will contest 298 seats and the Congress, 105 in elections in the state that will be held in seven phases starting 11 February and ending 8 March.

PTI contributed to the story.

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