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Poll panel, VHP head for yatra collision

New Delhi, Nov. 13: Living up to its record and risking a showdown with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Election Commission today asked the Gujarat government to ban the Sangh parivar affiliate’s yatra scheduled to start from Godhra on Sunday.

The VHP greeted the order with fury and a threat to defy the proposed ban, singling out chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh for a vitriolic attack though the directive was issued jointly by the three-member panel.

“Lyngdoh’s actions show his anti-Hindu bias,” said VHP senior vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore, dodging the commission’s announcement that its decision was based on a state government report that feared a breakdown of law and order if the yatra was held in the prevailing charged atmosphere.

The BJP-ruled, riot-ravaged state is scheduled to go to polls in December. Several persons who had met the poll panel in Ahmedabad expressed fears that the VHP had lined up the yatra to pick up from where chief minister Narendra Modi’s Gaurav Yatra left off and keep the communal cauldron boiling.

Terming the directive “an infringement of our fundamental right”, Kishore said: “As of now, we have decided to defy the ban order and court arrest.” He added that senior VHP leaders were meeting in Ahmedabad to take a final decision.

Asked about the Gujarat government’s report which prompted the commission to make the move, he said the report was “influenced” by Lyngdoh.

In its order, the commission noted that the “proposed yatra would involve the use of replicas of S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express that was burnt down by miscreants on February 27 in Godhra.”

It also said there was the “likelihood of communally provocative and intemperate speeches being made during the yatra”.

The commission also asked the state government to take preventive and punitive action against individuals and organisations indulging in “communally incendiary and provocative speeches” that may hinder conduct of free and fair polls in the state on December 12.

Fresh from a two-day tour of Gujarat, the three-member commission today met and viewed with “utmost concern” the report of the state administration that “there is every likelihood of communal tensions and passions getting exacerbated” by the VHP’s plan.

“In fact, the state administration has unequivocally stated that the possibilities of law and order situation arising in the wake of the proposed yatra cannot be ruled out,” the commission said. “In view of the above, the proposed VHP yatra should not be allowed to take place.”

“The commission would, in fact, go so far as to state that any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred, disharmony, ill-will or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic, will not only vitiate the election process and tarnish the fair democratic traditions of the country, but will also seriously jeopardise the law and order situation conducive for the conduct of free and fair elections in the state,” it added.

The BJP, which was vocal in its criticism when the commission had refused to call early elections in Gujarat, was muted today. The party said it would comment after studying the order.

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