Hindu nationalists in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, continue to train hundreds of young men and women in the use of various weapons, despite increasing opposition from political parties not part of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In recent weeks opposition parties have demanded that the federal government halt arms training by the Bajrang Dal, the militant wing of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose political wing is the BJP. Training camps, which have become almost a routine affair, were first held in Ayodhya in June 2000.

Opposition leaders fear that the training is intended to galvanize support for construction of the Ram temple on the site of the centuries-old Babri Mosque, which was demolished by Hindu nationalists in December 1992, and garner support for the BJP in the upcoming state Assembly elections.

Senior officials of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) have said that construction of the temple could begin anytime after March 12.

Organizers of the weapons training programs contend that the instruction is "self-defense against the anti-Hindu forces, such as the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency) and foreign missionaries.

"We are preparing these able-bodied persons to fight any eventuality," claimed Ved Prakash Sachchan, joint convener of the state unit of the Bajrang Dal. "With the ISI spreading its tentacles, these people are being trained to challenge the anti-Hindu forces."

Uttar Pradesh, with more than 166 million people, is in northern India and borders Nepal.

In Lucknow, from which Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was elected to parliament, ...

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