India's main opposition party announces poll manifesto

BJP's candidate Lal Krishna AdvaniNew Delhi  - India's main Hindu nationalist opposition party, in its election manifesto released Friday, asserted its commitment to rebuild a Hindu temple that has been the cause of deadly rioting and promised tough national security laws as well as measures to provide relief to the poor.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians led by Lal Krishna Advani, the party's prime ministerial candidate, unveiled the document in New Delhi on a day Hindus mark as "Ram Navmi," or the birth anniversary of the god Ram.

In the manifesto, the party said it would retrieve illegal Indian money stashed in banks abroad, lower tax and interest rates, and disburse cheap farm loans.

"The manifesto is BJP's way to build an ideal state, and an ideal state is possible as BJP has thousands of committed workers across the country," Advani said.

"We are promising only what we can deliver," he said, adding, "We are promising three things - good governance, economic development and security for all."

In a reassertion of the party's core agenda, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said the party was "committed to the construction of the Ram temple" in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya.

Hindu hardliners claim that a temple at the site once marked the birthplace of Ram and the temple had been torn down by Muslim rulers who built a mosque on the spot.

After a nationwide campaign led by Advani, groups of Hindu fanatics demolished the 16th-century Babri mosque in 1992, sparking nationwide riots that left more than
2,000 people dead. The temple issue is being decided by the courts.

The BJP also said it would not allow anyone to disturb Ram Setu, or Rama's Bridge, off India's south-eastern tip in the building of a shipping canal between India and Sri Lanka.

While archaeologists say Ram Setu is a natural formation of sand and stones, Hindu hardliners say the bridge was built by Rama and his army.

The BJP made a number of financial pledges in its manifesto, including promising rice and wheat to families living below the poverty line at rates cheaper than those announced by its rival the Congress party.

It also said it would exempt all armed forces and paramilitary personnel from income taxes. In another populist promise, it said it would exempt individuals with an annual income of up to 300,000 rupees (6,000 dollars) from income tax.

The party said it would enact a "strong law" to counter terrorism, strengthen coastal security and deal stringently with Maoist rebels.

The BJP led-National Democratic Alliance is a key rival to the country's ruling Congress party's United Progressive Alliance.

Formed in 1980, the party has close ties with hardline Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council.

In its election manifesto last week, the Congress party appealed to be re-elected, saying it would eradicate terrorism, protect farmers and maintain economic growth in the face of the global economic crisis.

An estimated 714 million people are eligible to cast votes in the five-stage, staggered elections from April 16 to May 13 for a new Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament. Results were expected on May 16. dpa

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