| Acharya Giriraj Kishore being led away by police following his arrest in Lucknow on Wednesday. (AFP)
Ayodhya, Oct. 15: The Mulayam Singh Yadav government today launched a sharp crackdown on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, arresting top leaders as well as foot soldiers warming up for Friday’s Ayodhya march.
VHP vice-president Giriraj Kishore was arrested in Lucknow this morning after the Shobha Yatra had covered barely half-a-kilometre.
Police also entered residential complexes in Ayodhya to pick up 600 Ram sevaks.
Contrary to VHP claims that the gathering would be huge, only about 500 activists from Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu turned up at the Shishu Mandir in Lucknow for the yatra.
Addressing the participants before it started, Kishore said: “There is no power on earth that can stop construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya.” He claimed that more than 1.78 lakh Ram sevaks were supposed to come, but were arrested on the way.
The VHP leader expressed surprise that the chief minister had imposed restrictions on the “peaceful” Ayodhya march. He claimed that Mulayam Singh had assured him when they met at Vasundhara Raje Scindia’s daughter’s wedding that he would help in temple construction if he came to power.
Kishore said they had to hit the streets because the Centre did not fulfil their demand for bringing a legislation in Parliament by October 15 to facilitate temple construction. “What is wrong in building Ram temple at Ayodhya'” he asked.
The march call met with a tepid response from local residents. Avinash Sharma, who lives in Nirala Nagar where the yatra started, said they were fed up of hearing the VHP say the same thing for so many years. The 70-km stretch between Lucknow and Ayodhya did not match the hype either.
Although VHP leader Praveen Togadia had warned in Delhi two days ago that riots could not be ruled out if police resorted to excesses, the volunteers gave up meekly at the IT crossing.
Police had barricaded the crossing, where Kishore and VHP’s state organising secretary P.. Singh were arrested along with 500 other activists. Some of those held belonged to the Durga Vahini, the VHP’s women’s wing.
As he was being whisked away to a makeshift prison in an official car, Kishore said: “Mulayam Singh will have to pay for this.” Police refused to say where the jail was.
The police conducted a flag march in the red zone, which covers the most sensitive area of the Ramjanmabhoomi complex, and the green zone, which covers Ayodhya and Faizabad.
A high court order refusing to stay the arrests of VHP activists gave the state police a boost. The police, for the first time, entered Ram Sevak Puram and Kar Sevak Puram — residential complexes of activists — in Ayodhya and arrested 600 people. Among those arrested was key VHP leader Rajendra Pankaj.
Inspector-general V.. Rai said they had information about a large number of people hiding inside the housing complexes. The police raided them and arrested the activists to avert a law and order problem in Ayodhya, he added.
Reacting to rumours of VHP leader Ashok Singhal’s presence in Ayodhya, Rai said police were looking him. Commissioner, Faizabad division, J.P. Sharma said 400 activists were arrested in the adjoining district of Faizabad.
The police also raided the house of former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti, who was tasked to coordinate the VHP activities in Ayodhya, but he managed to escape.