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Mayawati pre-empts Sonia over Rae Bareli bridge

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ONE UP: Uttar Pradesh PWD Minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui inaugurating the bridge on the Ganga at Dalmau in Rae Bareli through remote control from Lucknow on Wednesday. -
ONE UP: Uttar Pradesh PWD Minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui inaugurating the bridge on the Ganga at Dalmau in Rae Bareli through remote control from Lucknow on Wednesday. -

Atiq Khan

LUCKNOW: A newly-built bridge over the Ganga in Congress president Sonia Gandhi's parliamentary constituency Rae Bareli has become a new bone of contention between the Mayawati Government in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress party with its inauguration in a jiffy by State PWD Minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui in Lucknow on Wednesday.

The inaugural programme was originally scheduled at Dalmau Ghat in Rae Bareli on Thursday but was advanced by a day in a bid to thwart a Congress protest. According to Congress sources, the bridge was to be inaugurated by the Ms. Gandhi in the second fortnight of March.

The UP Minister announced that the bridge would be inaugurated a second time by him as scheduled on Thursday.

Even as the bridge was unveiled by the PWD Minister at a hastily arranged function here on Wednesday with a makeshift foundation stone, several Congressmen were detained by the police at Munshiganj on the Rae Bareli-Dalmau road.

Among those detained was Union Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways R.P.N. Singh who was going to Dalmau for inspecting the bridge, Ms. Gandhi's representative in Rae Bareli K. L. Sharma, Congress MLAs and MLCs from Rae Bareli and hundreds of Congressmen from the Rae Bareli and Amethi parliamentary constituencies. Their detention was later lifted by the police.

High drama preceded the inaugural programme. Mr. Siddiqui was in Aligarh on Wednesday for an official programme but was summoned to Lucknow, reportedly at the behest of Chief Minister Mayawati, following a memorandum submitted to State Governor B. L. Joshi by a Congress delegation earlier in the day.

Taking cognisance of reports that the Dalmau bridge was to be inaugurated on Thursday, the Congress delegation urged the Governor to intervene and demanded cancellation of the inaugural programme. They asserted that the bridge was to be inaugurated by Ms. Gandhi in the second fortnight of March. The memorandum was signed by five Congress MLAs from Rae Bareli --- Ajay Pal Singh (Unchahar), Ashok Kumar Singh (Sareni), Rajaram Tyagi (Bachhrawan), Shiv Balak Pasi (Salon) and Shiv Ganesh Lodhi (Harchandpur) -- and Dinesh Pratap Singh (MLC).

Justifying the inauguration of the bridge, Mr. Siddiqui told reporters that the decision had been taken earlier.

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