Lucknow, Aug. 19: The Akhilesh Yadav government today banned a scheduled VHP-backed procession of saints from Ayodhya to four neighbouring districts, nipping the outfit’s alleged plans to whip up support for a Ram temple ahead of next year’s vote.
Authorities in Faizabad imposed prohibitory orders across the district, home to the makeshift shrine, effectively pre-empting the planned gathering of some 40,000 saints and devotees for the “Chaurashi Koshi Parikrama”, a yearly ritual said to have been started by Ram’s father Dasarath.
Police said this year’s parikrama — or circumambulation of religious sites — had already been held in April-May and the proposed one from August 25 to September 14 could lead to fresh tensions in the riot-scarred Uttar Pradesh temple town.
The saints and devotees, according to what the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had said, were to march from Ayodhya to Akbarpur, Basti, Gonda and Bahraich, offering worship at temples on the way. All these districts have a sizable minority population.
Faizabad district magistrate Bipin N. Dwivedi said rallies, gatherings of more than five persons and even street plays would not be permitted in the entire district till September 15. “A parikrama that traditionally takes place in April every year has already commenced between April 25 and May 20 this year. That is an annual ritual. But a second one proposed now has other mission than religious and this may create fresh communal tension in Ayodhya,” Dwivedi said, quoting from a report by district superintendent of police K.B. Singh.
Singh later said if the VHP still tried to bring in crowds, they would be stopped.
It is learnt that the chief minister had asked the district police to be stern, especially after the riots last year, including one in Ayodhya. Sources said he has instructed the district magistrates of Akbarpur, Basti, Gonda and Bahraich to impose similar prohibitory orders. “Any attempt to defy the status quo (at the disputed temple site), now being enforced on the order of the Supreme Court, would be sternly dealt with,” said Rajendra Choudhary, a spokesperson for the ruling Samajwadi Party.
The move to ban the procession came days after VHP president Ashoke Singhal, former BJP MP Ramvilas Vedanti and Swamy Chinmayanand met Akhilesh and his father, Samajwadi boss Mulayam Singh Yadav, on August 16 in Lucknow. “The VHP leaders met our chief minister and the party chief to seek permission for the yatra,” said a Samajwadi leader.
After the meeting, the government asked for intelligence reports from Faizabad. The decision to ban the march followed.
“It (the march) seems to be consistent with the RSS-VHP plan to push for the Ram temple while Narendra Modi and the BJP talk about development and inclusive politics on the eve of the 2014 (Lok Sabha) elections,” said Akhilesh Singh, Congress legislator and spokesperson.
Vedanti said the Samajwadi Party was pandering to the minorities.
The VHP has been threatening to revive the temple issue. Earlier this year, it had invited Narendra Modi to attend an event in Ayodhya, but the Gujarat chief minister had cried off the visit.